MapCarte 182/365: Reliefkarte der Centralschweiz by Xaver Imfeld, 1887


Throughout cartographic history there have been a number of eminent artists, map-makers and illustrators who have brought beauty and precision to the depiction of relief. We can trace relief depiction back to the very earliest maps when illustrations of mountains in aspect were etched into clay tablets. Since, many different techniques have been used including panoramas, oblique illustration, hachures and contours.

At first sight this beautifl map by Imfeld appears to be just another planimetric map with well executed hill shading but looking closer, it uses an intriguing additional approach. Rather than viewing mountains in an orthographic perspective, Imfeld has re-positioned the viewing angle to create a parallel orthographic view. This has the effect of showing the mountains partially in aspect which accentuates their form while not obscuring too much detail.


Imfeld, from Switzerland, became famous for his cliff drawings and especially for two masterpieces: The “Reliefkarte der Centralschweiz” shown here and his map of the Mont Blanc area. He’s less recognised as the first to use a parallel orthographic projection which has seen many reinventions yet here it is, drawn by hand to a high degree of precision. His mastery of colour, tone and shading is spectacular. Though containing many labels, they merge into the map without becoming dominant.

A superb topographic map, ahead of its time in many ways but giving modern map-makers a great example of relief depiction that improves on the standard orthographic approach.