Old Cartographers Fear of Leaving Space

Inventing cities, mountains and monsters from nowhere to fill the gaps on the map was a tradition of cartography centuries ago.
Sea monsters on Caspar Vopel's 1558 world map. C: Harvard University
The Indian Ocean is filled with sea monsters on Caspar Vopel's 1558 world map. A giant swordfish-like creature appears on the way to collide with a ship; A sailor with frighteningly large legs comes out of the water, and a king with a flag rides on a pig-faced beast.
Vopel, a German cartographer, left no explanation as to why he added these things to his map, but he may have been motivated by the fear of leaving space in the works of artists, described as a case of fear by art historians. Cartographer historian Chet Van Duzer found dozens of maps by cartographers that made empty spaces seem to be filled with mountains, monsters, cities and other beautiful paintings.
Presenting some of his findings at a recent cartography conference at Stanford University, Van Duzer says that some scholars think that this hate of empty spaces has a significant impact on map design.

But Van Duzer argues that this trend of fear was common among cartographers, especially during the 16th and 17th centuries. For example, Vopel's map contains not only sea monsters and ships, but also text boxes that describe the characteristics of the terrain.
Although Vopel turned this information into the margins of the map, he preferred to use his different drawings to fill the oceans. Together, these elements take up at least as much space in the world as the map is actually mapped (the second picture in the gallery above shows the highlight of them all).
In contrast, the only real geographic information on the map of Vopel in the Indian Ocean was three groups of candidates. C: Harvard University
"One reason map makers did these things was to hide their ignorance." says Van Duzer. When the Dutch mapmaker Pieter van de Keere created a world map in 1611 (see above), the interior of North America was not yet mapped in detail. Instead of leaving blank, Van den Keere filled the space with a detailed alabaster, a decorative oval shape surrounded by crocodiles, birds and leaves. At the top of the postcard, explorers Christopher Columbus, Ferdinand Magellan and Amerigo Vespucci reveal a map.
At the time, the interior of Africa was not well mapped, but there were texts describing in detail with speculative and unreliable details, and Van Duzer said that van den Keere probably relied on them to fill the interior of this continent. According to the map, for example, the Niger River flows underground for 60 km, and then reappears in a lake. In reality, there was no such thing.
Decorative elements on the 1611 map of Pieter van den Keere include compass roses, sailing ships and paintings. C: California State Library
Map makers may also be motivated by the market for their business. Aristocrats and other wealthy people who made the most expensive maps would expect abundant decoration. In the 1640 colorful sea chart of the Mediterranean, by Italian cartographer Giovanni Battista Cavallini, the surrounding land is filled with cities, mountains and much more scaled bars and compass roses in an unnecessary and unhelpful way.

Unfortunately, if this was the true motivation of cartographers, it often cost them time. To date, Van Duzer has only found a text by a cartographer that discusses the reality of horror 'horror vacui', not by name.
Covering most of North America, the painting is adorned with plants, animals and famous explorers. C: California State Library
Plancius actually found a small note on the 1592 world map of the Dutch cartographer Petrus Plancius, who said he had set out to search the constellations of the southern sky for a small celestial map he drew in a corner; "At least leave this Hemispheare or the southern part of the Globe without water and empty it."

Van Duzer said, “18. In the southern hemisphere in Europe at the beginning of the century, the stars were not well known, so they thought they would have done a proud job if they filled the empty spaces. ” says.
Giovanni Battista Cavallini's Mediterranean Region 1640 map contains 15 cities (red circle), most of which do not represent real cities. C: California State Library
Even in the golden ages, this horror vacui situation affects some cartographs more than others, says Van Duzer. But by the middle of the 18th century, more and more map makers kept their decorations in their margins and said they stopped embellishing the seas and undiscovered continents. “Over time, mappers began to perceive maps as something more scientific.”
Decorative pictures fill most of the South Ocean and the interior of North America on the 1611 map of Pieter van den Keere. C: California State Library

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