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The Social Lives of Maps, Volume 1

2022: Volume 92-93

World Views: Cartographers, Artisanship and Epistemology in Early Modern Italy

  • Sean Roberts
May 2, 2022


Scholars have long since demonstrated that no such occupation as “cartographer” existed in early modern Europe. Instead, the skills needed to produce maps often combined those of manuscript illuminators, scribes, mathematicians, letterpress operators, and engravers - to name only a few. Though it is common to speak of maps as offering insight into “world views,” we often assume these to be those of patrons and viewers rather than of the craftspeople who produced them. These artisans relied upon a host of tools, skills, and materials which varied tremendously from city to city even within discrete geographic regions. Moreover, though many early modern maps were only marginally related to the practical activity of way-Dinding, those who labored to create them were often themselves itinerant artisans moving across the Alps and beyond. In this essay, I chart the training, experiences, and know-how of the engineers, printers, painters, and woodworkers who made maps. I explore the ways in which the trans-national and often multilingual social-lives of these makers informed the material fabric of their maps and, in turn, shed light upon the sometimes unexpected interpenetration of biography, world view, and object that characterizes cartographic cultures between the Difteenth and seventeenth centuries. My approach thus seeks to bridge recent insights on the “artisanal epistemology” of makers with a critical approach to the agency of objects, informed both by anthropological theory and a renewed focus on materiality which has come to characterize studies of visual culture.