Weighing seven pounds, and containing 300+ illustrations, this volume certainly qualifies as a "coffee table" book. The author provides a comprehensive overview of the history of cartography, however. With chapter-length discussions of such topics as the impact of technology, national surveys, allegorical and satirical maps, and the influence of changing taste in the arts he brings a fresh viewpoint to the once-over-lightly approach commonly found in books of this type.
A wide variety of illustrations were selected (curiously several are used more than once) from a number of institutions and private sources. Sotheby's is credited for more than 70 photographs. One wishes more care had been paid to the captions. The reproduction of Ortelius' Iceland measures just 3¾" x 5", yet the reader is invited to observe details which can barely be seen without a magnifying glass! A figure identified as a self-portrait of cartographer Pietro Vesconte in a detail from a 14th century portolan actually shows the head of a saint, with halo clearly visible. (See Mollat du Jourdain, et al, Sea Charts of the Early Explorers..., for the actual self-portrait.) A caption for a map of a campaign in the War of Spanish Succession states it is dedicated to Charles II of Spain, but the cartouche clearly names Charles III.
Finally, this book was printed in Hong Kong and the review copy shares a characteristic noticed with other color plate books produced in the Far East: a musty fragrance which several months' exposure to the air has not eliminated. Quibbles? Perhaps. But at $100 a pop, one might expect a technological fix if the problem is widespread.
Jon K. Rosenthal, 1994
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