For centuries, maps have served as a way to describe and explain the world, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be beautiful works of art. A new exhibit in the TD Gallery at the Toronto Reference Library aims to explore the visual allure of cartography.
The Art of Cartography, which runs from August 13 to October 16 and is sponsored by The Royal Canadian Geographical Society, features stunning maps and atlases from the 15th through the 19th century, created by luminaries like Gerardus Mercator, Abraham Ortelius and Allain Manneson Mallet.
Joanna Morrison, a librarian with the Toronto Reference Library’s Special Collections Department, says while the exhibition touches on the history and methodology of map-making, its central theme is craftsmanship.
“I think even those people who think that they are not interested in maps will be truly amazed and delighted by these extraordinary and exquisite works,” she says.
Prior to the 17th century, much of the world was still “terra incognita,” so cartographers used a fair bit of artistic license to flesh out their creations, adding elaborate drawings of plants, animals and mythical creatures to the margins and occasionally even inventing land masses to round out a region’s known geography. Included in the exhibition are a 1755 map by Jacques Nicolas Bellin that features fictitious islands in Lake Superior, and an earlier Mercator map (above) that imagined the Arctic as consisting of four mountainous islands surrounding a black magnetic rock, which was itself surrounded by a whirlpool and river rapids.
Also on display will be several items on loan from the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library at the University of Toronto, including the amazing Liber Chronicarum (Nuremberg Chronicle), an illustrated world history that appeared in 1493, and early jigsaw puzzles, which were usually dissected maps designed to teach geography to children.
“People have often expressed astonishment that we have original maps from hundreds of years ago, in such superb condition,” says Morrison. “I hope this will encourage people to further explore the world of cartography, whether it be ancient maps or modern day.”
Check out a few more of the maps from the exhibition below: