The act of describing the heavens, or our own planet, on a map involves always some daring display of imagination, abstraction, and fiction. How does one capture on a flat surface what we’ve never seen or that which exceeds our perception of space and time? A collection of maps of the sky and the Earth, made in 12th-century England, invites us to delve into the mysteries of the heavens, of the planet, and the innumerable ways they’ve been represented.

A momentous series of diagrams and schemes, this collection consists of but nine folios —a sort of cosmographic pamphlet. Found within a medieval manuscript, it is a scientific and theological document made by monks who sought to gather the cosmographic knowledge of an earlier Christianity, compiled by writers like Bede and Isodore of Seville. At the same time, they drew from even earlier ancient texts about the cosmos, mainly those of Pliny the Elder (while adapting them to their own Catholic context).

This manuscript, presently in the collection of the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, offers an inspiring visualization of the sky and the earth, the seasons, the winds (depicted as human faces, blowing), the tides, the zodiac, and the many ways in which they’re all related to humankind and the imagination of the time at which they were produced. A good number of the schemes are drawn in the shape of a wheel, a common technique for presenting cosmological and scientific information during the Middle Ages. It allowed for the organization of complex information in clear, orderly, understandable, and easy-to-remember ways. The circle was also a representation of perfection, of order, and of God, and it’s a symbol used to describe the cycle of time, of nature and creation, along with the logic, order, and harmony of the universe.

Two other diagrams rely on the “T and O map” scheme, the name of which comes from the Latin Orbis Terrarum, the equivalent of a medieval map, characterized by its strong theological content. It’s a conceptual map intended, among other things, to show the relative positions of the three continents known at the time.

What we see in the maps are not only representations of the sky and natural forces, though. They’re also images that include an enormous quantity of symbolic information, translated into a graphic language: orbits, planets, constellations, and measurements are all combined into a collection of images capable of stimulating the imagination and bringing us closer to what the science of the Middle Ages could read within the heavens.

cosmografia6
cosmografia4
cosmografia3
cosmografia2
cosmografia1
cosmografia5
 

 

Images: Public Domain Review

The act of describing the heavens, or our own planet, on a map involves always some daring display of imagination, abstraction, and fiction. How does one capture on a flat surface what we’ve never seen or that which exceeds our perception of space and time? A collection of maps of the sky and the Earth, made in 12th-century England, invites us to delve into the mysteries of the heavens, of the planet, and the innumerable ways they’ve been represented.

A momentous series of diagrams and schemes, this collection consists of but nine folios —a sort of cosmographic pamphlet. Found within a medieval manuscript, it is a scientific and theological document made by monks who sought to gather the cosmographic knowledge of an earlier Christianity, compiled by writers like Bede and Isodore of Seville. At the same time, they drew from even earlier ancient texts about the cosmos, mainly those of Pliny the Elder (while adapting them to their own Catholic context).

This manuscript, presently in the collection of the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, offers an inspiring visualization of the sky and the earth, the seasons, the winds (depicted as human faces, blowing), the tides, the zodiac, and the many ways in which they’re all related to humankind and the imagination of the time at which they were produced. A good number of the schemes are drawn in the shape of a wheel, a common technique for presenting cosmological and scientific information during the Middle Ages. It allowed for the organization of complex information in clear, orderly, understandable, and easy-to-remember ways. The circle was also a representation of perfection, of order, and of God, and it’s a symbol used to describe the cycle of time, of nature and creation, along with the logic, order, and harmony of the universe.

Two other diagrams rely on the “T and O map” scheme, the name of which comes from the Latin Orbis Terrarum, the equivalent of a medieval map, characterized by its strong theological content. It’s a conceptual map intended, among other things, to show the relative positions of the three continents known at the time.

What we see in the maps are not only representations of the sky and natural forces, though. They’re also images that include an enormous quantity of symbolic information, translated into a graphic language: orbits, planets, constellations, and measurements are all combined into a collection of images capable of stimulating the imagination and bringing us closer to what the science of the Middle Ages could read within the heavens.

cosmografia6
cosmografia4
cosmografia3
cosmografia2
cosmografia1
cosmografia5
 

 

Images: Public Domain Review