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  • The Image of Europe: Visualizing Europe in Cartography and Iconography throughout the Ages
  • T.K.R.
The Image of Europe: Visualizing Europe in Cartography and Iconography throughout the Ages. By Michael Wintle (New York, Cambridge University Press, 2009) 502. pp $110.00

This wide-ranging, detail-packed book covers a large array of information in a lucid and effective narrative. It brings together an enormous fund of information about the way in which Europe has been represented in imagery and maps from ancient times to the present, whether in manuscripts, paintings, public sculpture, or other media. The result is a virtual encyclopedia, arranged in rough chronological order, of the different purposes that depictions of the continent have served.

As a source of information, therefore, The Image of Europe is a compendious [End Page 439] and invaluable publication. It presents itself, however, as “unusual and innovative” for historians in its use of visual sources, but, on this score, one has to raise doubts. This journal, for example, has been promoting interdisciplinary exchanges between historians and art historians for nearly forty years, and has published conference papers, articles, and review essays to that end.1 The one reference to the journal, however, suggests that its attitude is one of “cautious skepticism.” It is only by ignoring the large and growing literature through which art now informs history that claims of innovation can be made. It is telling, for instance, that Hale, one of the pioneers in this area, is described as an art historian—a misidentification that removes from Wintle’s antecedents a scholar who saw himself as a historian, and who pioneered the use of images in historical research.2 Equally telling is the failure to mention Brown and Elliott, two of the most important early explorers of the genre, let alone the extensive recent literature on ceremonial and ceremony.3

A more fundamental question has to do with the opportunities that visual materials offer historians to attain insights into the past not otherwise available—an important instance of the concern that lies at the heart of the interdisciplinary enterprise. Despite a lengthy discussion of the theories and concepts that lie behind such ambition, however, Wintle is able to bring it to bear only occasionally. His central thesis is that “Europe,” both as a reality and as an ideal, did not take hold until the Renaissance. Elements of the conception had been put into place in earlier centuries—notably the depiction of Europa and the bull—but its full realization had to await the artists and writers of the fifteenth century and thereafter. This indeed is a convincing analysis, but it is far from new. First fully elaborated in the magisterial opening chapter of Hale’s The Civilization of Europe in the Renaissance in 1993—some of whose illustrations are repeated in Wintle’s book, and whose emphasis on both art and cartography is echoed in Wintle’s pages—the argument has encountered no opposition, and now seems an accepted element of the field.

That the achievement of The Image of Europe is, essentially, to provide detailed documentation of recognized shifts in geographical ideas and concepts of territorial allegiance is not to give faint praise. An enormous body of research is presented, and there are detailed descriptions of obscure as well as well-known exemplifications of the themes. One might disagree with specific choices—arguably, Andrea Mantegna’s “Adoration of the Magi” deserves far more attention than it gets—but there is no denying the weight of the evidence that is on display. It is revealing, [End Page 440] for instance, to see schematized maps that demonstrate the widely different definitions, in successive periods, of Europe’s eastern boundary. The close descriptions of the way in which continents are represented in public sculptures will make one look more attentively at figures that are usually ignored in passing. In general, Wintle provides a wealth of explication of images both familiar and unfamiliar, a sensible balancing of the conflicting demands of nationalism and Europeanism, a serious effort not to read the present into the past, and a resort to a multitude of forms of art (only the color plates are poorly...


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pp. 439-441
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