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Navigation tools and works of art

Navigation tools and works of art

Photographer:Fotograaf: archive Centre Céramique

MAASTRICHT. Throughout the centuries, atlases have been more than just navigation tools. They can also be works of art, tell a story about how the world was depicted at that time, and hint at the opinions of the cartographer. Jonathan Stockhorst, master’s student of Art, Literature and Society, spent the last few months researching the 96 atlases of the University Library, Centre Céramique and the Regional Historical Archive. This resulted in an exhibition at the Maastricht Antiquarian Book & Print Fair last weekend, to be followed up by a mini-exhibition in Centre Céramique.

“It was a completely new field for me,” says Stockhorst. “I’m not a historian. So I started by listing them – researching their importance and looking for background information about the makers.” One of the most interesting atlases is the Mercator Atlas Minor from 1630. Its maker, Gerard Mercator, was famous for the technique that he used to depict the surface of the earth on a flat page. This particular copy, from the Centre Céramique collection, is the first Dutch edition with early maps of Japan and Korea. “It’s a pocket edition of the grand Atlas sivecosmographicæ. The University Library has one of those in its collection. The colouring of every single copy is unique. They were only printed on demand and the buyer could choose the colours. Unfortunately, we couldn’t use it in the exhibition because it’s being digitalised.”

Accuracy was very important to the cartographers. “From 1600 onwards, their maps are very close to what we know now. It was a game changer for navigation. For the first time, you could draw a line on a map and say this is where I want to go.” But the atlases also tell small stories. “They would draw native plants and animals on the continents, or people in traditional clothing. One cartographer was afraid the Turks would destroy his work. That’s why he drew as many people as possible in his atlas – very strict Muslims aren’t allowed to look at pictures of people. He reasoned that if they couldn’t look at it, they couldn’t destroy it.”

The mini-exhibition in Centre Céramique (13 March – 13 May) focuses on maps of America. “With each map you see how their knowledge grew.  People would go on expeditions, sailing to the same place from different directions to map an area. In the beginning, cartographers had to use their imagination, because not all of America had been discovered yet. They thought, for instance, that California was an island.”



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