Power and propaganda of maps at British library

Fri Jul 16, 2010 6:06am EDT
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By Isabel Coles

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Rare cartographic gems mapping the world from 200 B.C. to the present go on display at the British Library in London.

"Magnificent Maps: Power, Propaganda and Art," showcases some of the finest wall-maps in the British Library's 4.5 million-strong collection, in an exhibition which encourages visitors to question the nature and purpose of maps.

"It's not about way-finding, it's not about accuracy, it's not about practical use," exhibition curator Tom Harper told Reuters." "It's as much about the art as it is about the geography," he explained.

Prior to 1800, these maps would have hung beside paintings and sculpture on the walls of palaces and grand private homes. No expense was spared, with vast tapestries, large wooden globes and painting in gold leaf commissioned.

The maps are organized according to the type of space where they would once have been on show: royal gallery; audience chamber; bedchamber, cabinet of curiosities; street; merchant's house; secretary of state's office and school room.

A section of a Roman street plan carved in marble is the oldest piece in the exhibition. As part of an 18m wide slab it was meant to reify Rome's power and inspire awe.

"People relate to maps because they have pride in a certain place," Harper told Reuters. "So really the messages are still working today," he said, noting the positive response of visitors to the exhibition.

The strong geopolitical statements made through the maps in the royal gallery and audience chambers provide a unique insight into a monarch's perception of the world and his or her place in it.   Continued...