Category Archives: Art

The things you find when you tidy up

Over a decade ago, the Bodleian Map Room moved its collections out of what was then the New Bodleian Library, for the building to be completely redeveloped into the shiny new Weston Library. Anything uncatalogued was given a barcode and brief record to locate it in the new storage facility in Swindon. It was while tidying up the last few of these that we stumbled across this beautiful panorama of the Grampian Mountains. Everyone loves a panorama, so here it is, showing a view across the Scottish landscape.  The hills grow increasingly faint into the distance.  Settlements can be located by the wisps of smoke rising from them, presumably from peat fires.

In the foreground a picturesque rocky outcrop is surrounded by colourful heather; this is captioned beneath “The summit of Benclach, 2359 feet above the sea.”

It’s described as “A view of the Grampian Mountains, taken from the Summit of Benclach the highest of the Ochill Hills, a station in the Trigonometrical Survey of Great Britain, situated 28 miles north west from Edinburgh.” There’s a lot of cartographic history packed into that title. The Ordnance Survey has origins going back centuries, but the Roy Map of Scotland from the 1740s and ’50s is often seen as the immediate forerunner to the systematic survey of the whole of Great Britain begun at the very end of the eighteenth century. The survey started at the south coast, mapping the country at 1 inch to a mile, and worked northwards. It took decades to cover England and Wales, and the first published maps OS maps of Scotland were later still. However, the initial Trigonometrical Survey which worked its way up Britain, plotting exact locations by a process of triangulation, had reached southern Scotland by the 1810s. The panorama was both drawn and published by James Gardner, previously “employed on the Trigonometrical Survey”.

From 1823 Gardner was established in London as a publisher and seller of maps, and sole agent for the sale of Ordnance Survey maps; he retired in 1840 and the business passed to his son. The mention of his earlier role as a surveyor probably indicates that the view was made to be accurate rather than simply an artwork, and certainly seems to show a pride in being involved in this great scientific endeavour. There is an outline diagram underneath which names the mountains, settlements and other features, making the panorama informative as well as beautiful.

The point of origin is probably Ben Cleuch in the Ochil Hills. There is a note stating that it covers “about 85 degrees of the horizon” – nearly a quarter of a circle, stretched out to a view almost two metres long. The view was engraved by Daniel Havell in London, and printed in colour, a quite early example of a colour lithograph.

 

A view of the Grampian Mountains, from the Summit of Benclach the highest of the Ochill Hills / delineated and published by J. Gardner … 1820. C18:5 (93)

Sail away to Christmasland

Everyone has heard of Christmas Island, but have you heard of Christmasland? The (fictional) island appears on this cartographic Christmas card from the 1930s. Christmasland: Captain Jolliman’s voyage of discovery in ye “Friendship” (see what they did there?) shows a route from Humdrum Drearyland, with its Workaday Coast, to Christmasland.

The island has many seasonal placenames such as Mistletoe Bay, the Forest of Greetings (the forest symbols being, appropriately enough, Christmas trees), Welcome City, Kiddies Country and the Coast of Old Friends. The River Gin and the River It combine to form Cocktail River (hurrah!) and there are various plays on words relating to place names, such as Port Wine, and the Sound of Bells. The captain’s route continues past Pudding Point, through the Financial Straits, amongst the Hangover Rocks and past Resolution Point to New Years Land.

Cartographical allegories like this have been produced for centuries. Maps along these lines illustrating the “land of love” or themes around courtship and marriage became popular in seventeenth century France, and soon spread to other European countries including England. Allegorical maps with a morally improving theme also appeared, illustrating the spiritual journey through life. In the eighteenth and early nineteenth century allegorical maps as games were also popular. Meanwhile, in the nineteenth century, the Christmas card was gaining in popularity, as outlined in this recent blog from the Bodleian’s John Johnson collection.  But Christmasland, combining the two, may be a one off.

The card was donated to the Map Room recently, after it was spotted in the Oxfam shop in Chipping Norton by a Bodleian reader. Such ephemeral material often doesn’t survive so it was a welcome addition to the collection.


The card is printed inside with an address in Hillcrest Avenue, Pinner, then as now a pleasant road in an affluent commuter town on the outskirts of London. It is signed by hand, and dated Christmas 1936. There is also a quotation:

Hope shall brighten days to come
And memory gild the past

From a poem by the Irish writer Thomas Moore. These words, and a printed greeting with

Remembrance and kind thoughts for Christmas with good wishes for your happiness in the future

is something we need in the current difficult times. Happy Christmas!

Overlooking a city

It’s not uncommon to see a map that makes you go “Wow!” at first sight. Generally the early printed and manuscript maps in the collection are most likely to inspire this response, but this recently acquired map of Buenos Aires, printed in 1950, had much the same effect when I first saw it.

More of a birds-eye view than a map, it almost gives the feeling of flying over the city. The layout of Buenos Aires in a regular grid pattern enhances the sense of perspective. Many features are shown pictorially including major buildings, parks, monuments and boats in the port in the foreground. The sea is coloured a beautiful dark blue. Overall the colour scheme is simple, the map being printed in black plus 5 colours. All along the bottom of the map is a view of the city.

It’s the work of Viktor Cymbal (surname sometimes rendered Tsymbal), a Ukrainian artist and designer who lived in Buenos Aires for much of his life from his late twenties, although he spent his final years in New York. More information can be found about him here.

The style is somewhat reminiscent of the work of Macdonald Gill, another artist whose work (like that of Cymbal) included both maps and illustrations for advertisements. In particular the simple colour scheme, pictorial elements, and the lettering style and yellow scroll devices as labels are interesting to compare. Gill featured in an earlier blog post focusing on a map made in 1941, just nine years before this one.

The map was made at a time when Argentina was flourishing under popular president Juan Domingo Péron and his even more popular wife Eva. The railway station at bottom right bears the president’s name.

El corazon de Buenos Aires/ Viktor Cymbal. Buenos Aires : Editores Peacock y Calegari, 950.  H3:35 Buenos Aires (19).