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  • Pictura et scriptura: Textes, images et herméneutique des Mappae mundi (XIIIe-XVIe siècles)
  • Tom Conley
Margriet Hoogvliet . Pictura et scriptura: Textes, images et herméneutique des Mappae mundi (XIIIe–XVIe siècles).Terrarum orbis 7. Turnhout: Brepols Publishers, 2007. 392 pp. index. append. illus. tbls.bibl. €80. ISBN: 978–2–503–52065–0.

Countering inherited ideas about the sudden beginnings of the Renaissance, this book argues that in cartography the "long Middle Ages" extends from the thirteenth to the end of the sixteenth century. Practices informing medieval mappaemundi inhere in world maps that reach into the classical age. Three criteria of measure and evaluation are employed. First, the relations of text and image in maps and their glosses reveal that words do not confirm, verify, or always explicate the pictures in which they are found, that they often surround, or to which they are appended. Because cartographic images and their texts are complementary to one another, reading and seeing are of the same order. Second, the survival of mirabilia in cosmographies and in world maps attests to a rich and deeply rooted spatial imagination. Monstrous creatures and fabulous figures of the kind found on the Ebstorf and Hereford maps (at the end of the thirteenth century) populate the descriptions of islands and continents in Münster, Thevet, and other cosmographers. Although fewer and far between, strange forms can be found in atlases of [End Page 934] protoscientific design. Third, the hermeneutic process, what Hoogvliet calls the interpretive meditation that medieval maps are designed to inspire, survives throughout the Renaissance. Cartographers tend to follow Saint Paul's dictum that individuals reach a superior intelligence through the contemplation of nature. Thus to study a map and its inherent allegories —at once in what it depicts and in whatever forms or shapes it employs to offer a picture of the world —is tantamount to discovering the marvel of creation. Even when the world is subject to a surveyor's mathesis, the fact of measure, proportion, and calculation belongs to an invisible and even higher order of things.

Hoogvliet remarks that wall maps and manuscript-maps (such as the Vesconte and Higdon mappaemundi, ca. 1330 and 1340, and the Catalan Atlas, 1375) are descriptiones orbis in which the depiction of the world, seen as a text built upon the observations of auctores, gives rise to the copious aspect of cosmography. The process is even found in the atlas, the genre (first attributed to Ortelius and Mercator) in which visual media are said to exceed their textual counterpart. In such descriptions words and images are consubstantial, and so much so that works of natural history, studies of the secrets of nature, and even books of fables and emblems belong to the same tradition. Bestiaries and moralized encyclopedias are their avatars, and so is, in the area of universal history as it is told on maps, the presence of Alexander the Great, Prester John, and, for what concerns eschatology, the land of Gog and Magog. These people and creatures, whether in mappaemundi, woodcut, or copperplate images in books and atlases, prompt speculation about the space and duration of creation. Hoogvliet argues that although a hermeneutic reading of the world is not immediately obvious on many medieval maps, their legends and glosses show that they are to be seen and deciphered as texts concealing deeper meanings.

Thus, the author concludes, European cartography from the ninth to the seventeenth century mobilizes Christian ideology; it promotes readings of the "book of the world" to assure that nature reflects the genius of creation; its shape and form, whether of a tendency to be closed —as in T/O and zonal diagrams or maps in the frame of an ecoumene or ocean sea —or open —as in maps based on accounts of travel east and west, where terrae incognitae are marked in places yet to be discovered —confirms that throughout the early modern age science aims at a deeper knowledge of God and creation. The author's arguments and demonstrations share the marvel of the maps she studies. Following many of Patrick Gautier Dalché's observations about medieval cartography, Hoogvliet leads the reader...


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pp. 934-936
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Archived 2009
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