The British Library is home to a staggering 4.5 million maps, most of which remain hidden away in its colossal basement, and the programme delves behind the scenes to explore some amazing treasures in more detail. This is the story of three maps, three ‘visions’ of London over three centuries; visions of beauty that celebrate but also distort the truth. It’s the story of how urban maps try to impose order on chaos.
On Sunday 2nd September 1660, the Great Fire of London began reducing most of the city to ashes, and among the huge losses were many maps of the city itself. The Morgan Map of 1682 was the first to show the whole of the City of London after the fire. Consisting of sixteen separate sheets, measuring eight feet by five feet, it took six years to complete. Morgan’s beautiful map symbolised the hoped-for ideal city.
In 1746 John Rocque produced at the time the most detailed map ever made of London. Like Morgan’s, Rocque’s map is all neo-Classical beauty and clinical precision, but the London it represented had become the opposite. In engravings of the time, such as Night, the artist William Hogarth shows a city boiling with vice and corruption. Stephen Walter’s contemporary image, The Island, plays with notions of cartographic order and respectability. His extraordinary London map looks at first glance to be just as precise and ordered as his hero Rocque’s but, looking closer, it includes 21st century markings such as ‘favourite kebab vans’ and sites of ‘personal heartbreak’.
The Beauty Of Maps looks at the art of maps, their historical significance, their relevance to modern map-making, and how they shape the future of cartography. A documentary series looking at maps in incredible detail to highlight their artistic attributions and reveal the stories that they tell. Experience five of the world's most beautiful old maps and discover their secrets. Each programme will focus on one specific map and use human stories and testimony, original sketches and artistic impressions, private journals and historic archive sources to tell its story. The series addresses the cartographers' role and the impact their creations have had within the art world and includes interviews with artists and Peter Barber, Head of Map Collections at the British Library.