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Cartography as Art and Science

Cartography as Art and Science

Online Exhibition

We are proud to present a selection from Spertus Institute's Muriel Yale Collection of Antique Maps of the Holy Land and the Ottoman Empire. Enjoy this online-only exhibit from the comfort of your own chair. Please note that there is no corresponding physical exhibit currently on display.

In History of Cartography, authors Harley and Woodward define maps as “graphic representations that facilitate a spatial understanding of things, concepts, conditions, processes or events in the human world.” Maps mesh artistic representation and scientific reality, and this commingling is seen nowhere better than in maps of the Holy Land, which often portray vivid biblical scenes literally on top of geographical territory (see, for example, Thomas Fuller’s Issachar).

The Holy Land is sacred to the three major monotheistic religions — Christianity, Judaism, and Islam — and is located at the meeting point of Africa, Asia, and Europe, making it an essential area throughout history for military and trade purposes. It is also special in terms of mapping, in that It has been mapped since the development of cartography.

Well before the development of modern cartographic techniques, the Holy Land’s connection to the Bible and associated holy texts impelled cartographers to map out the city of Jerusalem, the division of land among the twelve tribes, the wanderings of the Israelites in the desert, and other biblical scenes. Visitors to — and occupiers of — the Holy Land also provided material for maps. The earliest maps of the area date to the Roman and Byzantine eras. The Peutinger map, likely from 3rd-century Rome, refers to Jerusalem by its Roman name, Aelia Capitolina. The 6th-century Madaba map takes the form of a mosaic in Jordan, and portrays the Holy Land and surrounding areas, representing Jerusalem graphically.

Many maps of the Holy Land — and of Jerusalem in particular — are given over to distortion and artistic fancy: “T and O” maps depicted a T set inside an O, with Asia at the top, Africa at the lower right, Europe at the lower left — and Jerusalem at the center of the world in many maps. Similarly, Heinrich Bünting’s clover leaf map showed Europe, Asia, and Africa in each of three petals, with Jerusalem occupying a circle in the center.

The maps in this online exhibit date from the 15th to 18th centuries. Through them, we can see a slice of the changing world. We can also explore the history of maps and the people who make them, even as the dominant centers of mapmaking shifted with changing military and economic circumstances, with France, Italy, England, and the Netherlands each holding title at various points. And we can learn the science of the mapmaker's craft, from Ptolemaeus, who established the science of cartography, to Abraham Ortelius, who compiled the first modern atlas.



Advent of the Printing Press
17th Century
Towards a More Scientific Cartography
Map Listing

Spertus thanks University of Chicago Metcalf Intern Rachel Hyman for her work on this project.

About the Muriel Yale Collection of Antique Maps

The Muriel Yale Collection of Antique Maps of the Holy Land and the Ottoman Empire comprises over 1,800 maps which span the 15th through 20th centuries. Dr. Seymour H. Yale was a dentist and the dean of the UIC College of Dentistry from 1965 to 1987. An enthusiastic collector of maps and coins, he first gave a gift of 122 maps to Spertus Institute in 1997 and 1998, naming the collection after his late wife.