Dual review: Tom Conley in Leonardo

By Mike Leggett

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Politics, and (therefore) national and personal identity are at the core of these two publications. The analysis of the remarkable period of European (and therefore) world history during the early modern period of the 15th and 16th Centuries in the first, provides the call for the kind of topographic descriptions compiled during the early part of the 21st Century in the second. Then as now, proliferation of technology and political change provide the background to these accounts, overtly in the first, occluded in the second.

Since the time of the cosmographer Ptolemy 1500 years before the early modern period, cartography had been held, like many other technologies, subservient to the principalities of warlords and the belief systems centred on the Church of Rome. The technologies emerging in the 15th Century – printing, perspective drawing, written forms of the vernacular, scientific method, and other matters of the Renaissance – began the process of rolling back superstition and the power vested through religion.

Maps are of fascination for our quotidian moments and occasionally become essential for our survival (even) to those on the move. A map confidently organises data gathered from the physical world and we accept its greater knowledge and authority as expressed in neutral appearances. We have only to remember the colours applied to groupings of countries, and projections favouring their placement in the frame, to know this is not true. These realisations, a placing of oneself in the world, are the maps of the mind at the centre of Tom Conley's fascinating account.

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