Book Review – ‘Ships on Maps: Pictures of power in Renaissance Europe’ by Richard W. Unger

By Zsolt G. Török, published October 2020


Before the sixteenth century, images of ships rarely appeared on maps, while the charts and maps from the European Renaissance to the Enlightenment were frequently and prominently decorated by sea vessels. This is a simple statement based on practical experience, which can be agreed by not only map historians but anyone familiar with the cartography of the periods mentioned above. This widely shared observation is the starting point of this small and concise book, whose author goes beyond this curious phenomenon and tries to find its reasons. An acknowledged maritime historian, Unger explores history of cartography to explain why ships appear on maps in the sixteenth century – and why they disappear by the eighteenth century. The subtitle of the book is in fact the summary of his conclusions: ships on maps were actually symbols of power. However, this simple conclusion may not be well understood without its historical context….

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Filed under: Early Modern
Subjects include: Art & Music | Miscellaneous

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