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Wall maps have a high mortality rate. They fray under their own weight; their heavy rollers drag down on them even more; even if backed onto cloth for support, the cloth is eaten by insects. They are blackened by the smoke and soot of open fires and candles; they fade in sunlight (65); their coats of varnish darken and solidify with age, and when the varnish then cracks, it breaks the paper as well. And once they are so damaged, darkened, and soiled as to be unusable, they are discarded. Those wall maps which have survived have generally done so because they were never put on display. In such cases, the separate sheets of the maps were perhaps bound as an atlas (64) or were dissected and backed onto cloth so that they might fold up easily into a case. Either way, such maps are no longer “wall maps.” To understand the sheer enormity and visual power of large wall maps, we must first reconstruct them. Only then can we appreciate their role as public displays of knowledge and of politically charged conceptions of space. The two examples presented here celebrate and proclaim Britain’s territorial ambitions in North America (64) and the glory of Louis XV’s Paris, the magnificent capital of a world-wide empire and center of French culture (65).
Note: clicking on the thumbnail, or this text, will take you to a comprehensive reproduction of OML's Popple map and a cartobibliographic analysis by Mark Babinski. Because of technical difficulties, OML was unable to show a facsimile of its Popple map during the actual exhibition. OML is instead indebted to David Rumsey for providing us with a facsimile of George II's personal copy of the map. For more Mr. Rumsey's truly amazing collection of digital cartographic imagery, connect to his website!
English, d. 1743
A Map of the British Empire in America with the French and Spanish Settlements adjacent thereto
Facsimile of a copper engraving in 20 sheets, 230 x 233 (assembled)
Michel Etienne Turgot
Plan de Paris
Copper engraving in 20 sheets, 249 x 318.5 (assembled)
Gift of George and Deborah Brett