In today’s digital world, map art feels like outdated relic of the all-too-distant past. In the pre-Google era, maps illustrations were the symbols of man’s thirst for knowledge and desire to explore the world. Maps charted the course of human history and provide the viewer with an idea on the past centuries geography, politics, religion and culture.
Map illustrations teach people today how the world looked in the past. Countless maps in the 17th and 18th century illustrated California as an island floating out to sea. The Schedel world map of 1493 has side panels that represent fantastical creatures that were believed to have inhabited the farthest corners of the earth.
Why do people and businesses invest in map illustrations? According to Massimo De Martini, director of London’s Althea Library, map art is a great conversation starter. Besides that customers consider the map illustrations as artefact and art at the same time. They are good wall decorations because they can easily be identified.
The 300-year old map of Arabia is still recognizable and easily becomes the topic of conversations. There are people who are willing to buy a map illustration because of nostalgia. They remember travelling with the family and using the map as the navigation tool. For others, it is progress and how a certain city or country has developed over time.
One of the oldest and more expensive maps is from the Ulm edition of Ptolemy’s Geographica. The map that was printed in 1486 is being offered by Althea Gallery for £35,000. A world map from the 1842 edition of Geographica is also being offered by Althea Gallery for more than £200,000.
Maps are also being auctioned at Sotheby’s including loose maps and atlases. One of the maps is the first printed map of the Holy Land. There is also an early authentic map with the place name America on it.
There are several reasons why map art is still popular today. Perhaps, it is a fascination over a form of art that started centuries ago. Others may consider the map illustration as a true representation of a place because it showcases personality and culture which traditional maps do not provide.