St. John's exhibition puts cartographers on the map 'Space and Place' marks 4 centuries of charts

April 12, 1996|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

What brought Columbus to the New World? The Santa Maria? Queen Isabella's money? Excellent answers both, but an equally valid response would be paper.

For without his maps, those newly fashioned charts putting the latest principles of high-tech perspective geometry to work in the navigational sphere, Columbus would have stayed rooted to the Mediterranean headlands as steadfastly as the cautious medieval sailors for whom coastline was lifeline.

Maps, in short, shattered our archaic perceptions of both our planet and ourselves. Such is the power of cartography.

And that's the premise behind "Space and Place: Mapmaking East and West," an exhibit of 48 maps representing four centuries of cartographic genius on display at St. John's College's Mitchell Gallery through June 16.

This exhibit, on loan from both the Library of Congress and a private collection, makes it clear that maps are among our most powerful and extraordinary creations.

To represent Western cartography, the exhibit showcases the "golden age" of mapmaking that occurred during the 16th and 17th centuries. Maps by Ortelius, Mercator and others illustrate artistry and fine draftsmanship, as well as ever-expanding mastery of geometric principles.

Chinese cartography, by contrast, has traditionally been more of an art form. Chinese mapmakers, most of whose names are unknown, used pictures to convey a sense of place. Mountains, temples and rivers are depicted, often in great detail, by these artists and calligraphers.

Ralph Ehrenberg, chief of the geography and map division of the Library of Congress, will lecture at 4 p.m Thursday in the St. John's Conversation Room. Cordell Yee, curator of the exhibit, will lead a gallery talk on the maps at 4 p.m. April 23.

The programs are free, but registration is necessary. Call 626-2556.

Admission to the Mitchell Gallery is free. Hours are noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday and 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. Friday.

Pub Date: 4/12/96

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