The curious collection of maps as stood out through the latest centuries of the history of cartography. To be more precise, we should say that the symbolic cartography is an enthralling chapter with multiple manifestations within the general outlook of this science in the Medieval and Renaissance Europe. Truly, these celebrated maps by Heinrich Bünting, extracted from his Itinerarium Sacrae Scripturae, are amongst the oldest and most famous cartographic rarities.
The description of the Biblical Places that we find in this Itinerarium, published for the first time in 1581, would be widely spread until the mid 18th century. It eventually had more than 60 editions in different European languages – German, Latin, Dutch, English, Swedish or Czech among others.
A guide for the Christian traveller
This success would not be easy to explain without drawing attention to its symbolic elements, which Bünting skillfully enriches. The author is a Theology teacher, born in Hanover in 1545, and is close to the great reformist movement of the German church. He fundamentally understands his work as a travel guide for the Christian reader, who is lead through the places where the passages in the gospels take place. We can link Bünting to this trend of Descriptive Geography of these locations which are considered sacred by Christians; he provides a great deal of detail, such as old coins, measurement, uses and customs, etc.
However, despite the scientific dimension of his work, the personality of Bünting is above all that of an evangelical preacher more concerned about the vision of geography as a great religious allegory than about the contentious contribution of contrasted data. He is more linked to the medieval cartographic tradition, the maps of which are complex icons inspired essentially in theological concepts and in the fantastic tradition, than to the elements typical of a modern cartography that little by little breaks through.
The symbolism in the drawings
Christianity was more interested in the cartographic representation as the great stage of divine work during the Middle Ages. Hence, all the Ancient Greekcartographic and cosmographic breakthroughs get involved and mixed with biblical elements; as happens with the famous maps of T in O which will appear in several codices and manuscripts ever since the appearance of the Etimologies by Isidoro de Sevilla.
The O, as a geometric symbol of perfections, would contain the ecumene – the world inhabited and inhabitable by mankind. The T, which divides this ecumene into the three known continents – although Bünting already hints at the existence of a forth, the new American world –, would remind of the Christian Cross. That is to say, throughout many centuries he persisted – and we could say that somehow it remains – on a tendency of transforming maps and diverse cartographical representations in the most varied symbolic shapes.
Therefore the cordiform maps, or the ones which adopted the shape of vegetation, animals or even human figures. One of the most beautiful exponents of this transformation can be found precisely in these maps by Bünting: The Clover worldmap, which attempts to represent the Trinity in Christianity. Besides, the Asia Pegasus, mystical winged horse, skillfully drawn adjusting to the profile of the Asiatic continent; or the beautiful lady or Queen, with whom Bünting wants to represent Europe, which has rightfully become a classic within this symbolic cartography.
A vision of the world
To sum up, in this amazing trip or itinerary into Holy Land that Bünting proposes, the reader discovers a vision of the world with some pretensions of geographical proximity, though still inmerse in a deep religious or theological concept which pervades the fabulous tale and the cartographic trajectory we are invited to cover.
What we face is the simple image of a German evangelical theologian from the 16th century, who presents us with an itinerary through the Sacred Places of Christianity, and in the covering of which, unexpectedly and surprisingly, these precious pearls of Renaissance fantastic cartography, which amaze us with their shapes and colours, at the same time they help us understand the concept of the world that still was in the minds of those of that time a bit better.