The most common statement to greet my ears is 'I love maps'. Now, I do not mean that people accost me in the street and declare their love for all things cartographic. That would be odd. The declaration usually comes from people who have just been told what I do for a living. And as curator of antiquarian mapping at the British Library, my response of late has been to bid them 'prove their love is true' by coming to our exhibition Magnificent Maps: Power, Propaganda and Art, which opens on 30 April.
For those of you of the 'I dislike maps but I don't quite know why' variety, the exhibition offers the following explanation: maps are all around us, so much so that we scarcely notice that they are there. They are an integral part of our visual culture, on walls, on rooftops, as statues, in palaces, schools, homes and offices. They appeal to our pride, our sense of belonging, and our aspirations. And to do this, they employ artistic motifs, devices and meanings. In short, maps are not about geography, and nor is this exhibition. Prepare to be surprised.
As the title suggests, Magnificent Maps will be a map blockbuster, the like of which has not been seen in Britain since our enormously popular London: A Life in Maps exhibition in 2006. Around 90 of the largest, rarest, most beautiful maps ever created will be on display, many for the first time. Ranging in date from 300AD to 2008, these are display maps, intended to be placed upon walls, not in books or folded and stuffed in one's pocket. We will be showing maps on paper, vellum, parchment, silk, marble maps, tapestry maps, maps on coins and medals, art and propaganda posters. A visual delight, accompanied by a deeper exploration of our histories, societies, and visual language.
Over the coming weeks I'll be keeping you up-to-date with the preparations for the exhibition, providing interesting anecdotes about the maps and their makers, maps in interesting locations, and any other map and exhibition related gossip that lurches across my radar. I hope you'll join me in witnessing the moving of the world's largest atlas, and keep tabs on coverage of the exhibition in the national press, of which there has already been a great deal. I'll also be providing updates on the wide range of related events. Get involved!