Details in 16th c. Map Illustration

Details of old maps are perhaps more interesting than the thing being mapped. Originally luxurious and imaginative, map surveys were sponsored by wealthy nobles, for whom they were a sign of prestige. The blank spaces were made as visually appealing as possible with fantastic sea creatures spouting across oceans and such rumored things. In the 1585 map of Iceland below, creatures surround the island. Check out the polar bears, who seem to be in a tight situation.

Details from other 16th c. maps below shows the same elaborate and fantastic decorative work in blank spaces, much as illuminated manuscripts’ margins were filled with detailed miniature scenes. However, these maps were not drawn by hand but used new printings techniques. Details like this show how the Renaissance straddled a time of belief and tradition and one of discovery and science.

3 thoughts on “Details in 16th c. Map Illustration

  1. Such a detailed Icelandic map must’ve been commissioned by a Danish/Icelandic citizen, right?

    It looks like some kind of Nordic language at least.

    Awesome illumination 🙂

  2. Yes–I like that blog. Thanks for mentioning it. (I’m also quite fond of the polar bears)

    Seb, it was made in Antwerp by a guy named Abraham Ortelius, but based off a Scandinavian map. Not sure how accurate it was, but you’re pretty much on target.

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