Royal BC Museum hosts the world’s earliest printed maps

Hartman D. Schedel, German, 1440-1514
Untitled Map of the world
Nuremberg, Germany, 1493

Victoria, BC – The new Royal BC Museum season opened October 4th with Envisioning the World: The First Printed Maps, 1472-1700 an exhibition of thirty rare world maps drawn from the Wendt collection, complemented by a 1696 double-hemisphere map from the BC Archives collection.

The exhibition includes the first world map ever printed, a simple woodprint, which illustrates the cumulative history of many of these maps. First drawn around 150 A.D. the map was re-discovered in 6th century Alexandria, Egypt. Then Isidore of Seville, a Christian scholar, added the names of Noah’s three sons, each on his own continent. In the 1450s – when printing technology was developed in Germany – this became the world’s first printed map when it appeared in one of Isidore’s books.

Also included in this exhibition from the Sonoma County Museum, California is The Peutinger Table, the world’s first printed road map, redrawn in 1598 from a Roman 5th century map used by the emperor’s couriers. The printed map in this exhibition was published in Antwerp in 1624 and is a series of panels covering more than 112,650 km (70,000 miles) of Roman roads from southern England in the west to Sri Lanka and the River Ganges in the east.

Remarkable leaps in human thought coincide with the emergence of printing, the growth of humanism, and the explosion of scientific discovery beginning in the 15th century,” said collector Henry Wendt in describing these maps. “They capture magical moments in human understanding.”

Lorne Hammond, History Curator, Royal BC Museum, added “This exhibition reveals the earliest centuries of our exploration of our planet’s geography. The printed maps are a visual feast in which the modern world emerges from the dialogue between theologians and astronomers, mathematicians and explorers, in masterpieces of cartography.  With these maps we begin to truly comprehend the nature of our world.”

The Sanson/Jaillot 1696 map from the BC Archives provides a record of how little of the BC coast was charted at that time. It is one of more than 178,000 maps, atlases and related drawings in the archives.

The optional MP3 audio tour of Envisioning the World features short interviews with experts and the character voices of some of the most famous contributors to this body of knowledge. The 104-page exhibition catalogue provides rich detail and is available at the Royal Museum Shop.

This exhibition was organized in a close collaboration between Henry Wendt and the Sonoma County Museum, California. Envisioning the World will continue at the Royal BC Museum until January 27, 2013.

News Release from the Royal BC Museum