Jean de La Fontaine
he Hereford World Map, made in around 1300, is recognised by UNESCO as an exceptionally important cultural artefact. It shows us how medieval people saw the physical world around them; perhaps more importantly, it also reveals how they perceived it culturally and spiritually.
Over 1,000 inscriptions and almost as many painted scenes and symbolic decorations combine to create a strange and unfamiliar world: a world in which France is below the Red Sea, where Jerusalem occupies the exact centre and where a rhinoceros is as likely or unlikely an animal as a unicorn. The map is also an exquisite object in its own right: a work of beauty, artistry and skill. It is a bestiary, psalter, Bible, history of the world and collection of travellers’ tales in one. Now it is available for you to own in a new reproduction from The Folio Society, limited to 1,000 numbered copies.
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The Hereford World Map was created by a group of gifted craftsmen and artists. Detailed analysis of the techniques used reveal the hand of a professional scribe (writing both in Anglo-Norman and Latin), at least one artist who drew outlines, another to outline in ink and add colour, and possibly others who drew rivers, mountain ranges and the decorative foliage border. Finally, a professional limner added display lettering in gold in a beautiful Lombardic script. The map was created from a single calf skin of exceptional size and quality, specially treated to preserve its luminous finish. From this splendid base to the carved oak triptych in which the map was displayed, everything about its production suggests an exacting, expensive process that took a year or more to conclude.
Other medieval mappae mundi have survived – but none is so large, detailed or elaborately decorated as this. It is quite simply the finest and largest in existence.
The map was originally displayed in a large wooden triptych painted with the Virgin Mary on one wing and the Angel Gabriel on the other. It may have been intended as an altarpiece, an aid to preaching or teaching, or both. Certainly the map was not intended to be used as we use maps today. Despite a remarkable wealth of geographical detail, this was not an aid to navigating Europe, or even the Holy Land. At the top of the map’s border, Christ sits in judgement over all of God’s creation, while the damned and the saved are divided beneath him and Mary prays for those who have sought her intercession. Eden sits just below, while Jerusalem is at the very centre. The legendary cities of Troy and Carthage are marked, as well as the more familiar Venice and Durham. The Minotaur’s labyrinth in Crete is shown along with geographical and biblical details like the Nile Delta and the route taken by the Israelites in the desert. Curious human tribes and mythical beasts roam the earth, particularly around its fringes.
This, then, is a spiritual and historical map, which conveys the teachings of the Bible and depicts the wonders of history and legend. Cosmological, ethnographical, geographical, historical, theological and zoological information all come together in a single composition, crowned by a religious scene intended to lead the viewer’s thoughts to God. This reveals a heroic ambition on the part of the map-makers – to create an encyclopaedia and meditative aid in one beautiful object. For the observer today, it is a fascinating visual narrative in which every detail tells a story.
The Hereford World Map has suffered over the years. Over seven hundred years of atmospheric corrosion have reduced its overall colouration to a murky brown. The blue pigment of rivers has flaked away, the green of the oceans darkened, while dirt has smudged and obscured the script and tarnished the gilding. To create this restored reproduction, The Folio Society has used digital technology to peel away the years and reveal, as much as possible, the glory of the medieval original. In it, the background vellum has been cleaned, lettering and drawings strengthened and, most strikingly, the original gilding and spectacular colouring of rivers and oceans have been restored. A careful analysis of pigments, comparison with other medieval maps and the expertise of consultants from the British Library and the Bodleian Library have all been employed to inform the reproduction. To prevent more damage occurring in the future, special light-fast inks have been used. This is by no means an attempt to recreate the original in every particular – some detail is lost for ever – but it is the most authentic version possible.
The trustees of Hereford Cathedral plan to place the Folio Society limited edition on permanent display beside the original. This will permit generations of future visitors to examine the map in detail and gain an appreciation of its former glory.
The key to understanding the Hereford World Map: two commentaries offer the definitive, most up-to-date scholarship available.
The Hereford World Map contains an inscription asking all who encounter the map to pray for ‘Richard of Holdingham or of Sleaford’, who made it. It is extremely rare to have any information about a map’s maker, and this fascinating clue has led to much discussion over the years.
In a newly expanded and updated introductory volume accompanying the reproduction, P. D. A. Harvey, Professor Emeritus of Medieval History at the University of Durham and one of the foremost experts on the subject, presents and examines the evidence. Professor Harvey separates fact from speculation to conclude that Richard of Holdingham was most likely Richard of Battle, Canon of Lincoln, and that the map was probably made in Hereford Cathedral itself, where it hangs today. In his engaging and illuminating account, Harvey places the map in its historical context, tracing the development of cartography from the Roman world through the other surviving world maps and itineraries and explaining how the map was made and used.
Alongside Professor Harvey’s study, we have re-published Dr Scott D. Westrem’s indispensable commentary on the map. It provides a full transcription of all inscriptions in Latin and Anglo-French as well as a full exposition of their meaning and historical context and the allusions they contain. It is a mighty undertaking – one to which the author devoted over two decades – and greatly enhances our understanding of this complex work of art.
Delivery of limited editions may take longer than standard editions. Please contact us for more information.
Richard Gough, the 18th-century antiquarian, was describing what would later become one of the most famous maps in the world: the Hereford World Map. When it was first created it was housed in a wooden triptych some 10 feet wide, and would probably have been displayed in a prominent place in the cathedral, an aid to devotion and instruction.
Initially regarded with reverence, in the centuries that followed its creation the Hereford World Map fell into disuse. At one point – perhaps during the Civil War – it was stored under the floor of the cathedral’s Audley Chapel. Worse was to follow. In the 1780s the wings of the triptych were destroyed or lost, and in the early 19th century the map was found under a pile of lumber. In 1855 it was taken to the British Museum, where the back panel of the original triptych was removed and mislaid; it was only rediscovered in the 1980s. Although various repairs were undertaken, including patches added in the 19th century and parchment strip edge repair in 1948, many of these actually caused further distortions.
The Hereford World Map is the largest mappa mundi still in existence and it is fortunate that such a fine example has even survived the vicissitudes of the centuries. The map has risen in prominence once more; it is listed by UNESCO, has featured in several major television programmes, including the acclaimed BBC series Seven Ages of Britain, and attracts large numbers of visitors to Hereford Cathedral. Over 700 years since the map’s creation, this new reproduction restores the beauty and detail of the original. It allows us to see the map in as close a state as possible to its former glory. A restored reproduction that remains scrupulously faithful to the original Scholars estimate that the original creation of the map took a team of artists a year or more to complete. The process of creating this reproduction has taken almost as long. Its success is testament to the skill, not only of the panel of academic experts, but of the digital experts involved. The result is a thoroughly authentic and sensitive restoration, that allows us to glimpse the original vibrancy of this medieval work of art.
The map is removed from its display case only once a year, to be examined closely by its conservator, Christopher Clarkson. This gave us the opportunity to photograph it in unprecedented detail, as the first crucial step in the reproduction process.
The most time-consuming, but also most critical task then began. Over time the map has suffered significant damage from atmospheric conditions, as well as abrasion, distortion and creasing. Using new digital tools, we were able to clean up the colour of the background vellum on our reproduction, and strengthen the drawings of figures and the clarity of inscriptions and illustrations. Details that were almost unreadable, certainly at any distance, are once more clear and crisp.
The map’s original colours have now faded to a palette of murky browns. It is clear that the seas and rivers were once different colours, and tiny specks of blue pigment which once adhered to the brown glue suggest the rivers were coloured with a vivid, crushed lapis lazuli preparation. Red, although faded, has survived remarkably well, except in the region of the Red Sea, where the vellum has been damaged. Our panel of experts compared the Hereford World Map with other surviving maps, including the Duchy of Cornwall World Map and the Psalter World Map. A range of shades were examined to determine the choice of the blue for fresh water and green for the seas.
From a detailed examination of the map, it became clear that bands within the illustrations for cities were a different colour. Following the suggestion from Professor Michelle Brown that the brown that remained was a glue for a now-vanished gold leaf, we decided to restore this gold (using a subtly different shade), as well as the gilded versal letters which were probably the final step in the original making of the map.
Celebrating the restored reproduction of the Hereford World Map Hereford Cathedral and the trustees of the World Map plan to place The Folio Society’s restored reproduction alongside the original. This will allow the thousands of visitors who come to see the map to appreciate its detail and beauty at close quarters. Our reproduction of the Hereford World Map has also been given the unusual honour of appearing in the British Library’s forthcoming exhibition Magnificent Maps: Power, Propaganda and Art. It will be displayed alongside numerous important maps from the 1400s to the present day, including the Klencke Atlas of 1660, the largest map book in the world. The Hereford World Map will be the subject of a round-table discussion at this year’s Hay-on-Wye literary festival, featuring three of the experts involved in the Folio Society reproduction: Paul Harvey, Peter Barber and Christopher Clarkson. The combined expertise of leading curators and academics To carry out this project, The Folio Society and Hereford Cathedral have called on a distinguished group of experts. They are: P. D. A. Harvey, Professor Emeritus of Medieval History at the University of Durham and expert on the cartography of the Middle Ages; Peter Barber, Head of Map Collections at the British Library and Trustee of the Hereford World Map; Christopher Clarkson, Conservation Consultant to Hereford’s Chained Library and World Map and to the Bodleian Library; and Michelle P. Brown, Professor of Medieval Manuscript Studies at the University of London.
Printed in 4 colours plus metallic gold, with light-fast ink, on Neobond – a specialist material with exceptional resemblance to vellum.
Mounted on a canvas backing woven in England, specially commissioned for this publication.
Supported by two battens cut from English oak with a brass D-ring for hanging. Labelled on the reverse with a hand-numbered limitation panel.
Map dimensions: 56" x 47¼".
Presented in a large wooden map box (51" x 5½"). Covered with burgundy cloth and lined with fabric. Finished with three brass hinges and two clasps. Blocked in gold with calligraphy by Stephen Raw.
Introduction by P. D. A. Harvey.
Bound in buckram, blocked in gold foil with Merida endpapers and ribbon marker. 112 pages with illustrations throughout. 11" x 8½".
Commentary by Scott D. Westrem. Bound in buckram, blocked in gold foil with Merida endpapers and 2 ribbon markers.
536 pages with 16 pages of colour and black & white illustrations. 11" x 8½".
Review by davidjbrown10 on 11th May 2013
"The digital restoration of the Hereford Mappa Mundi transcends mere collecting. It opens — or more accurately cleans — a crucially important window on the mediaeval world view. I think barely a da..." [read more]