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While maps are essentially scientific documents, their acceptability is enhanced if they are pleasing to the eye. In addition to skillful engraving, which alone is quite beautiful, decorative elements may be added to improve the overall visual impact. Color, symbols, ornamental lettering, and decorative imagery enhance the attractiveness of the map and simultaneously augment and clarify informational content The motifs and images were usually borrowed from pattern and emblem books, illustrated history and travel books, works of art, and other maps. Accordingly, changing artistic styles and fashions were reflected in the decorative imagery.
The ocean areas, devoid of geographic detail, invited decoration and were embellished with textured patterns, sailing ships, sea battles, mermaids, sea monsters, and compass roses. Unexplored blank land areas were similarly filled with title and text panels, vignettes of natives with their habitations and customs, and images of fauna and flora. The latter practice elicited the following satirical observation by Jonathan Swift:
So Geographers, in Afric-maps, With savage-pictures fill their gaps; And o’er uninhabitable downs Place elephants for want of towns.
On Poetry, A Rhapsody (Dublin, 1733)
Other opportunities for embellishment were found in the composition and framing of title panels (cartouches) and mileage scales, and in elaborate mini-portraits and inset views.