Maps have been used as wall decorations since ancient times. In some instances, they were painted directly on walls, while in others they were created on materials such as stone, wood, animal hides, or fabric and were then attached to walls. Large medieval world maps known as mappae mundi often decorated public buildings and religious institutions. Among surviving Italian Renaissance art treasures are mural maps in the Vatican Palace, the Doge’s Palace in Venice, and the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, tapestry maps were woven in Flanders and England. The most famous of these, a set of ten great tapestry maps celebrating the defeat of the Spanish Armada, hung in the House of Lords for more than two centuries until their destruction in the great fire of 1834.
The development of printing greatly increased the availability of wall maps. Printed from multiple woodblocks or engraved copper plates, individual sheets were joined to form wall maps and were then mounted for framing or backed with cloth and attached to rods for hanging. Such maps reached the peak of their popularity in the Netherlands in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, a time of expanding colonial empire and great interest in exploration-Appreciated as works of art and as symbols of success, they found great favor as wall hangings in public buildings, places of business, and homes of affluent merchants and burghers. This may be seen in Dutch paintings of the period, especially those of Vermeer. At the end of the seventeenth century, leadership in the production of wall maps passed to the French; the two wall maps seen here are of French origin and exemplify the extensive geographic detail and elaborate ornament made possible by their large size.
The number of surviving wall maps is small because many were destroyed by exposure to light, variations of temperature and humidity, pollution, handling, and general wear and tear. A few have been preserved in good condition by being bound in giant atlases or, as in the case of the Chatelain map shown here, by being bound in sections, or folded, or both.