This, at least from the perspective of posterity, was a blessing, as it means that we’re still able to enjoy the craftsmanship and cartographical skills of the mapmakers of places such as Venice, Majorca and Genoa.
Some of the finest examples, ranging from the 15th to the 18th centuries, are assembled in this handsome volume. It’s a visual treat but it also contains some fascinating little articles on the production and evolution of maritime maps.
We learn, for instance, about why Normandy became such a cartographic hotspot during the 16th century, about why London’s hydrographers were so prized and about the dynasties of mapmakers who cornered the market in their particular corners of the world.
These kinds of charts served many different purposes, but the blending of utility and artistry is perhaps the most striking part of the story. The sea, as one of the contributors puts it, was the domain of the marvellous, so alongside finely calculated explanations of how the winds blew, there might be depictions of imagined lands, exotic kings sitting on their thrones or monstrous dog-headed men. What better way to inspire the terror and the promise that drove the European colonial enterprise?
THE GOLDEN AGE OF MARITIME MAPS: When Europe Discovered the World by Catherine Hofmann et al, Firefly Books, £35