Wednesday, April 17, 2019

All the Lands & Kingdoms in the Whole World

Google Arts & Culture is an often overlooked resource for viewing vintage maps online. One example of an historically important map which you can view in detail on the site is Leonardo da Vinci's Plan of Imola. An even earlier map which you can explore on Google Arts & Culture is Hanns Rüst's Mappa Mundi (c1480).

These two maps were created possibly as little as 20 years apart but they belong to two entirely different worlds. Da Vinci's Plan of Imola, created with his own scientific instruments, belongs entirely to the Renaissance. The map is not only amazingly accurate it would not look entirely out of place in a modern atlas of Italy. On the other hand Hanns Rüst's Mappa Mundi is a product still rooted in the Middle Ages. It is a picture of the world which owes little to the new thinking of the Renaissance and nearly everything to a religious understanding of the world.

The Mappa Mundi, usually attributed to the German printer Hanns Rüst, is a much smaller map of the world than the better known Hereford Mappa Mundi. The Hereford Mappa Mundi stands over 5 feet tall and is over 4 feet wide. The Hanns Rüst map in comparison measures less than 11 x 16 inches. Despite this large difference in size both maps share a number of similarities.

Both the Hanns Rüst and Hereford Mappa Mundi are religious maps of the world as much as they are geographical maps of the world. The title of the Hanns Rüst map boasts (in German) "This is the mappa mundi of all the lands and kingdoms which there are in the whole world". However the knowledge which underpins this understanding of the world comes firstly from the Bible and the church. Ezekiel 5:5 says "Thus saith the Lord God; This is Jerusalem: I have set it in the midst of the nations and countries that are round about her." Something that the creator of the map has taken quite literally by placing Jerusalem at the very center of this map and therefore at the center of the known world.

Jerusalem appears above European countries on the map. The Mappa Mundi is orientated so that east is at the top of the map. Paradise is also at the top of the map. In Genesis the Garden of Eden is said to be the source of four rivers. This religious knowledge is used to frame the cartographer's understanding of the world. On the map four rivers are shown flowing from the Garden. Most sources claim that these rivers are labelled as the Ganges, Phison, Indus and Nile (however to me it appears that one river is labelled the Euphrates (Eufrates) and another the Tigris).

To the left of these four rivers is a mountain range with a single head appearing from behind one peak. The mountain is labelled, "Caspian Mountains gog and magog". The tribes of Gog and Magog are the descendants of Noah's son Japheth. For Christians Gog and Magog often seem to represent the uncivilized tribes of the world. The Book of Revelation says that in the Last Days Satan will rally "the nations in the four corners of the Earth, Gog and Magog, to a final battle with Christ and his saints".

Back in the center of the map, around Jerusalem are a number of locations which are probably included on the map as much for their religious significance as for their geographical importance. So, for example, we have Bethlehem, the Mount of Olives and Galilee.

Moving out from Jerusalem the map is divided into three continents. These are labelled in red on the map. Asia is shown above Jerusalem (remember the map is orientated with East at the top). Below Jerusalem Europe is shown in the bottom-left corner of the map and Africa is shown in the bottom-right corner. The three continents are also named for Noah's three sons Ham, Shem, and Japeth (see the red outlined labels on the map). At the time it was traditional to identify the three known continents as populated by the descendants of Ham, Shem, and Japeth, as can be seen on early T and O maps.

The Mappa Mundi itself contains a form of T and O map. In an inset at the bottom-right we have a T and O map which depicts the division of the world into town, country and sea. To the left of this is another inset which shows the world as consisting of the four elements, wind, fire, earth and water.

Back on the main map you can see that the world is encircled by an ocean which contains a number of islands (including in the bottom-left 'engenland'). To the right of engenland are the Columns of Hercules. The Columns of Hercules were believed in ancient times to be located at the Strait of Gibraltar and they marked the western extreme of the known inhabited world. As you move around the outer ocean the islands contain a number of weird and wonderful people and monsters. Outside of the encircling ocean four classical windheads are located at the four cardinal directions of the map.

If you were lost in Imola you could without a doubt use Leonardo da Vinci's map to find your way home. If you tried to navigate your way around the world using Hanns Rüst's Mappa Mundi you would soon be lost - unless you are a Christian and you need to find yourself philosophically within the myths and traditions of the Old Testament. In fact the only thing that the two maps have in common is the importance given to the different winds.

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