MapCarte 262/365: Map of Venice by Jacopo de’ Barbari, 1500


The very first aerial photograph was taken by French photographer and balloonist Gaspard-Félix Tournacho, in 1858 over Paris. That fact alone makes this map, produced some 350 years earlier even more of a monumental cartographic achievement than its beauty alone suggests. Produced from wood-block printing on several large sheets, this birds-eye map shows the city of Venice with the Alps acting as a distant horizon.

The detail is exquisite with almost no stone unturned – literally. Every building, church and piazza is shown and such is the attention to detail that one could easily use the map then and now to navigate around the city.

Barbari’s skills as a painter and engraver show how mastery of one’s tools is fundamental to great cartography. What the map perhaps fails to convey is the way in which it was constructed. Given Venice is built on water traditional techniques of measurement (physical rods or chains) wouldn’t have been used to gain measurements. Instead, Barbari must have used trigonometry and then applied foreshortening to generate his oblique perspective. These are techniques not adopted for many years to come.

Whatever you use to design and make a map, knowing how to apply the tools to a high standard goes a long way to ensuring the result will be high quality. Painting, engraving and mathematics underpinned Barbari’s work. It resulted in a magnificent map.

MapCarte 209/365: Bird’s eye view of China by Katushika Hokusai, 1840


When classic artists and illustrators turn their attention to maps it’s going to go one of two ways. Either you get some sort of self-absorbed abstract bastardisation of a map…or you get the sort of beauty that Katushika Hokusai produced.

Hokusai painted ‘The wave’…the classic iconic illustration possibly only surpassed in reproduction by Munch’s ‘Scream’. Hokusai is arguably the most widely known Japanese artist in the west and he was prolific. His woodblock prints are exquisite and he’s widely known for his ’36 views of Mt Fuji’ from the early 1830s of which the wave was part (Mt Fuji is in the background). During his long and distinguished career, he turned his canvas to virtually every theme and style. Here, during the latter years of his life he created a superlative birds eye view of China.


Let’s remember, this is the mid 1800s and there is very little evidence that Hokusai had even been to China yet he was able to turn his hand to the technique to perfection. He respresented many of China’s most important landscapes and places. He even managed to include a good portion of the ‘Great Wall’ and all in a perspective view with mountains standing impressive throughout. This is almost plan-oblique since there’s no hint of a vanishing point.

A fantastic piece of work by a fantastic illustrator and artist.

More of Hokusai’s illustrations including maps can be found here.