Antique Scandinavian maps on display

By FREDERICK M. WINSHIP  |  July 10, 2002 at 12:26 PM
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NEW YORK, July 10 (UPI) -- Antique maps constitute a specialized field of collecting that offers a richer mix of art, history, science and even mythology than most hobbies, as evidenced by an exhibition of 76 rare printed maps of the Earth's northern regions now on display at Scandinavia House's galleries through Aug. 16.

The maps are from the collection of William B. Ginsberg, a semi-retired telecommunications executive, and his wife, Inger, who divide their time between the New York and Norway. Although many old maps are available to collectors for modest sums, this is quite a rare collection containing Gerard Mercator's 1595 map of Scandinavia and other cartographic masterpieces requiring considerable financial investment.

The show, titled "Scandia: Important Early Maps of the Northern Regions," includes maps and sea charts showing Scandinavia, from the first map of the area in 1482 to the elaborate maps made by major cartographers of the 17th century and the detailed maps of the 19th century. There are also world maps such as the Italian Gastaldi Map of 1546 and the Rosaccio Map of 1597 made as a wall hanging of the type seen in paintings by Jan Vermeer.

The Rosaccio map omits Scandinavia altogether, indicating it was of peripheral interest to southern European cartographers although Sweden was well on its way to becoming a major European power under the Vasa dynasty. Sweden got its due in the early 1700s with Frederick de Wit's map, published in Amsterdam, that is so heavily illuminated with gold that the name of the gilder, Dirk van Santen, is recorded on it.

Most printed cartography prior to the 19th century was carefully hand-tinted in delicate watercolor pinks, greens, blues and yellow and many of them include handsome decorative elements that enhance their visual allure. A map of Scandinavia and the Arctic drawn in 1601 by a Dutch explorer, Jan Huyghen van Linschoten, shows a Laplander in a quaint sleigh drawn by a reindeer troika.

Early maps were printed from woodcut blocks and later ones engraved from incised metal plates. The show includes maps contained in early books of maps, maps published separately, and maps included as illustrations in books. The first modern atlas of the world was published in 1597 by Abraham Ortelius, a Flemish cartographer, and its maps of Scandinavia and Denmark are on display.

For three centuries, printed maps were decorated with depictions of fantastic land creatures and frightening sea monsters of myth and legend, puffing wind gods and goddesses laden with agricultural goodies, celestial bodies, pictures of native peoples and animals, and handsome coat of arms of ruling families that often commissioned maps for propaganda purposes. It was a way of saying, "Look how much land I control!"

One of the most handsome examples is a map of the hemispheres from Dutch geographer-astronomer Willem Janszoon. Blaeu's 1662 "Atlas Major," showing Biblical figures in heaven and figures representing commerce, industry, science and the arts at earth level, riding on chariots drawn by animals and birds. The two spheres ride in an azure sky with puffy white clouds, a sort of astronaut's view of the whole earth except for Alaska, shown as a void, and Australia, barely indicated by a vague outline of its northwestern coast.

More than 30 maps in the exhibition are devoted to Norway and were published between 1585 and 1798. They include the first map that shows Norway alone, the first map of Norway drawn and published by a Norwegian cartographer, and a sea chart from the first official coastal survey of Norway. They reflect Inger Ginsberg's interest in her ancestral homeland.

The first map of Norway was drawn by Ove Andreas Wangensteen and published in 1763, followed within a generation by large-scale maps of southern and northern Norway by Christrian Pontoppidan. Rich in information, the Pontoppidan maps indicate natural and manmade formations including industrial works, mines, and outstanding buildings.

Coastal maps of Norway, designed for sea captains and fishermen, were a special challenge to cartographers because of the number of fjords and islands. Only the coastlines are drawn in, the interior of the country left blank. One of the most beautiful is by an English cartographer, Robert Dudley, notable for its finely hatched engraving, as soft as if it were drawn in graphite.

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