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24.03.03 Dumasy-Rabineau et al. (eds.), Pour une histoire des cartes locales en Europe au Moyen Âge et à la Renaissance

24.03.03 Dumasy-Rabineau et al. (eds.), Pour une histoire des cartes locales en Europe au Moyen Âge et à la Renaissance


Pour une histoire des cartes locales en Europe au Moyen Âge et à la Renaissance--containing eighteen essays by some of the leading scholars in the field--addresses diverse, engaging topics and is significant for the particular maps and other primarily visual works under discussion. The work is equally noteworthy for broader observations about the whys and hows involved in early mapping and other spatial presentations. With seventy-seven lucid color illustrations the collection makes plain that scholarship on local maps is necessarily more drawn to the presentation of space itself in contrast to mappaemundi, Portolan charts, and other displays of larger areas, which are often explored for their anthropological, religious, and mythic phenomena. Small scale and large-scale maps are of course similar, but local maps are typically made for one or more explicit legal or administrative reasons, so their constructive tensions and methodologies often reside within the differences between topographical reality and the necessary parameters of cartographic presentations restricted in size, shape, and the features that can be included or excluded, and their arrangement. They are districts, distrained within several confines. The essays therefore explore forensic affinities with manuscript illuminations, drawings, and paintings that also depict a delimited geographical area or landscape, logically opening up the category of a cartographic object.

Pour une histoire des cartes locales, the outcome of a conference held in Paris and Orléans in October, 2019, accompanied the exhibition--Quand les artistes dessinaient les cartes: Vues et figures de l’espace français, Moyen Âge et Renaissance--which displayed nearly one hundred mostly French and some British, German, and Italian works at the French National Archives from September 2019 to January 2020. The show attracted some 50,000 visitors, and a catalog is also available in print (and in part on the Archives Nationales website). Juliette Dumasy-Rabineau’s introduction to the collected essays identifies several topics concerning local maps that have arisen in recent (particularly French) scholarship, themes which were alive during the conference and are further developed in the writings. These well-shaped essays are thereafter grouped into three categories--“Le corpus et ses contours,” “Questions théoriques et savoirs pratiques,” and “Cartes locales et enjeux sociaux, politiques, économiques, et environnementaux”--yet Dumasy-Rabineau’s opening more clearly identifies points most of them address: the criterion of a local map as opposed to a depiction of a larger area, mathematic and trigonometric methods of construction versus personal site visits and surveys, the significance of cartographic orientation and constant scale, and the reasons for making maps: legal, political, economic, martial, and environmental.

These and other overlapping topics appear within the volume. The strand to do with the methods used to construct local maps arises in nearly all the essays. Catherine Delano-Smith’s contribution on the Gough Map stands out in this regard because the map of Britain is not typically thought to be local. Summarizing research on the map, Delano-Smith describes how it is a copy that went through multiple stages during its construction in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, reiterates that its red lines with roman numerals are not roads but possibly relative distance markers, and lays out theories about why it was made, reasons that remain obscure. The discussion is included in the collection because although the map shows the North Atlantic Archipelago, information about its towns and other settlements appears to have “been supplied in individual units from the regions to a central authority for the purpose of assembling into a map of the whole country” (83). In this way, the map is local, an observation which opens up the classification of “local map” to think of how depictions of larger areas might nevertheless embody regional or provincial sources. Armelle Querrien also addresses map-making sources and methods in a study of Bertran Boysset, a scholar in Arles whose early fifteenth-century treatise on technical instruments reflected his role as a measurer and boundary marker. Even given Boysset’s more mathematic and trigonometric interests, Querrien summarizes that the majority of local maps and other pictorial representations were made with “l’observation oculaire, sans recours à des mesures sur le terrain. Le canevas des cartes était établi à partir des grands axes, routes et rivières qui organisaient la zone étudiée, et complété des lieux utiles au programme qui motivait leur confection.” When surveyors were involved, “elles suivaient un mode déambulatoire, notant la distance du nouveau lieu à consigner par rapport au précédent” (115). Boysset’s own practical experience also seems to have resulted in a treatise with a more scholarly rather than vocational audience in mind. Surveying arises in several essays, yet the point often made is that because local maps were made for legal, political, and strategic ends, constant scale and other techniques associated with surveying were not always as important as rendering the details and relative locations of particular waterways, roads, walls, built structures, and so on within a larger region. This trend persisted well into the early modern period, so despite some essays emphasizing technical developments toward later cartographic conventions, a teleological tic, Querrien’s essay and several others underscore continuities in a long history of local map making styles for three hundred years from the late Middle Ages on. For example, Emmanuelle Vagnon’s analysis of a seventeen-foot-long roll depicting a river in the Vendée shows how the map reflects established riverine and maritime cartographic conventions at the time of its making in 1542, but this was still an area “documentée par l’observation du terrain...au plus près de la réalité topographique” (239).

These and other essays, along with exploring the role of the surveyor and the legal context for local maps, highlight the topic of what accuracy means in mapmaking, particularly in relation to forensic aims. Rose Mitchell, also recognizing continuities between sixteenth- and seventeenth-century English local maps rather than differences even once professional mapmakers came to be employed at this moment, notes that “The success of early maps was assessed by the extent to which they achieved their purpose, rather than by their accuracy in the modern sense of being made to scale” even in legal cases.... A map was deemed ‘true’ in the sense that it was expected to illustrate clearly and accurately the problem involved in a claim to land located at a distance from the judges at court” (28). Christophe Speroni, like others, expands the objects of study in cartography by stating that “Les vues et les plans de villes, comme les cartes, appartiennent à l’art chorographique” in a study of sixteenth-century plans and views of cities in the Loire. These are noted to have the “capacité à rendre compte de la réalité de la ville,” but they involve a “procédé qui consiste à sélectionner et à schématiser ce que l’on tient à représenter avant tout.” The result is “une image de la ville qui se veut objective mais qui est avant tout une ville donnée à voir, un discours sur la ville qui correspond à ce que l’artiste veut en dire ou à ce que ses commanditaires lui imposent” (276). Similarly, Gaël Lebreton, comparing two quite different yet contemporary sixteenth-century landscape views of the same rivers, agricultural lands, and built structures in an area in the South of France, notes how they “ont été réalisées par des peintres au terme d’une ou plusieurs visites sur les lieux du litige et ont été formellement approuvées par les différentes parties” (162). Because the two views are similar, like Vagnon’s roll these landscapes suggest that there was “une certaine pratique de la cartographie, dont la méthode et les conventions étaient connues des peintres qui réalisaient ces figures” under the “authority” of the Parlement de Toulouse (163). Léonard Dauphant likewise inspects fifteenth-century boundary disputes in France “qui nécessitent des inspections de terrain, des ‘visitations’” (181), which leads to provocations that further open up the category of local and other maps. Dauphant, acknowledging Patrick Gautier Dalché’s work (whose important writings are noted throughout the volume), emphasizes that maps be considered alongside itineraries and “listes écrites,” indeed, be thought of as lists in graphic form (191).

The essays clarify that professionalism and the law are contexts particular to local maps; surveying is bound up with them and important as a historically emerging practice whose origins earlier in the Middle Ages still need sustained research. Like Gautier Dalché, P.D.A. Harvey’s work has been very influential in developing insightful ideas about cartography, and he also addresses surveying. Essays in the collection diverge from some of his claims made here and in his previous writings: that a category distinction between cartography and other practices is important--Harvey holds that some images are not maps but “pictures” or hybrid “picture-maps” because, for example, buildings are rendered from a ground-level rather than overhead view (136)--and also that a clear and somewhat teleological historical development occurs when “exact” or consistent scale emerges (144). Yet it is difficult to argue with his emphasis on a transition from surveyors giving their measurements in verbal form to becoming mapmakers themselves with their methods informing cartography, a “union of surveyor and mapmaker” (144). Along these lines, Thomas Horst, noting how changes in the physical environment propelled map production in “legal and administrative maps” emerging in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries in France, Italy, and particularly Southern Germany, examines artists who were called in to courts to depict disputed boundaries due to flooding, including making before and after maps of the same area (39). In contrast, Camille Serchuk, in studying an early seventeenth-century court dispute over a spring in Suresnes, suggests that the employment of painters in lawsuits was giving way to surveyors and engineers by this time. Serchuk considers a case in which a lawyer sought to discredit a painter’s image of the land by evoking a seemingly already established idea that “painters could not be trusted to transcribe what they saw without transforming it” (220). Sébastien Nadiras, like others comfortable with broadening the field of cartography, looks into “les figures judiciaires, ou vues figurées” in Northern France in the sixteenth century, works which also are, “à des degrés variables, des documents écrits et non entièrement figuratifs” (57).

The inclusion of depictions of local areas from a variety of viewpoints, in a number of different artistic genres, and from a large span of history in Pour une histoire des cartes locales is revealing and productive. Eyewitnesses, surveying, legal fact-finding, and the variety of methods of presentation emerge as prominent features. Many essays also push back, as Dauphant writes, against the idea present in geographical history of “un récit linéaire de progrès dans les représentations qui nous conduit encore à majorer la part des productions ‘d’avant-garde,’ ou, plus subtilement, à valoriser dans les sources ce qui s’approche de la cartographie savante” (190-191). Nathalie Bouloux, summarizing the difficulties inherent in the analysis of maps, observes: “Alors que leur analyse requiert les compétences des historiens des représentations de l’espace, elles nécessitent aussi toujours une connaissance approfondie des lieux, du contexte archivistique et historique, que détiennent les spécialistes de l’histoire locale” (255). The contributors in the volume perform this challenging combination with careful, historically informed case studies with intriguing revelations.