Maps as functional art

"Ptolemaic World System" by Andreas Cellarius.
"Ptolemaic World System" by Andreas Cellarius.

DeKALB – As part of the Northern Illinois University Art Museum's upcoming Mapping Exhibition Suite, "MAPPING: Measuring Across Place and Period; Information, Navigation and Geography" features the evolution of maps as both tools for navigation and beautiful works of art. This exhibition will be curated by NIU Museum Studies students enrolled in ART 656 and will be held in the South Gallery of the NIU Art Museum from April 4-May 24. A public reception will be held from 4:30 to 7 p.m. Thursday, April 4.

This exhibition will focus on the historical evolution of mapping from the maps used by early European scholars that merely hypothesized the shapes of parts of the world, into the contemporary realm of cartography.

Many of the maps created by famed early map-makers, like Gerardus Mercator or Abraham Ortellius, do not simply show geographical features, but also contain monsters, sailing ships and gods as decorative elements. These early pieces of cartographic draftsmanship were not always intended for use as navigational aids, but were sometimes designed to adorn the homes of wealthy and scholarly members of the aristocracy.


The star charts created by Andreas Cellarius present an artistic facsimile of what scholars in the 17th century believed the solar system was like. Some of these works focus more heavily on artistic interpretations of the constellations than the any real astronomical data. However, these maps were offered as an accurate view of the world as it was perceived by the scholars at that point in history.


As time progressed, maps became more sophisticated but, for the most part, suffered in terms of visual appeal. Still, some maps maintained an artistic spirit while accurately representing the world, like the Buckminster Fuller Dymaxion Map, which is visually impressive, geographically accurate and designed to inspire readers to visualize the world in a different way.

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