Maps

Medieval art curator Melanie Holcomb talks about how maps help her make sense of the world.

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I wonder why it is that we love maps so much. I think in part it has to do with the fact that it allows us to be God for a minute.

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  • Melanie Holcomb
    1280852
  • 12801011
  • 1180856
  • [Subway Passengers]  |  1938  |  Walker Evans (American)  |  Gelatin silver print  |  Gift of Arnold H. Crane, 1971 (1971.646.18)
    12801024
  • 11951024
  • [View Down Subway Car with Accordionist Performing in Aisle, New York City]  |  1938  |  Walker Evans (American)  |  Negative  |  Walker Evans Archive, 1994 (1994.253.510.2)
    1280900
  • 1280976
  • Astrolabe  |  1291  |  Yemen  |  Pierced and engraved brass  |  Bequest of Edward C. Moore, 1891 (91.1.535a–h)
    7861024
  • Astrolabe  |  1291  |  Yemen  |  Pierced and engraved brass  |  Bequest of Edward C. Moore, 1891 (91.1.535a–h)
    8701024
  • Navigational Chart (Rebbilib)  |  19th–early 20th century  |  Marshallese people, Marshall Islands  |  Coconut midrib, fiber  |  The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Gift of the Estate of Kay Sage Tanguy, 1963 (1978.412.826)
    11161024
  • Memory Board (Lukasa)  |  19th–20th century  |  Democratic Republic of Congo; Luba  |  Wood  |  Gift of the Britt Family Collection, 1977 (1977.467.3)
    5971024
  • Celestial Map of the Northern Sky  |  1515  |  Albrecht Dürer (German)  |  Woodcut  |  Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1951 (51.537.1)
    9641024
  • The Creation of the World and the Expulsion from Paradise  |  1445  |  Giovanni di Paolo (Giovanni di Paolo di Grazia) (Italian, Sienese)  |  Tempera on panel  |  Robert Lehman Collection, 1975 (1975.1.31)
    11461024
  • The Qianlong Emperor's Southern Inspection Tour, Scroll Six: Entering Suzhou and the Grand Canal  |  Qing dynasty, dated 1770  |  Xu Yang (Chinese)  |  Handscroll; ink and color on silk  |  Purchase, The Dillon Fund Gift, 1988 (1988.350)
    1280877
  • Taima mandala  |  Kamakura period, 12th–14th century  |  Unidentified artist  |  Japan  |  Hanging scroll; ink, color, and gold on silk  |  Rogers Fund, 1957 (57.156.6)
    8041024
  • Taima mandala  |  Kamakura period, 12th–14th century  |  Unidentified artist  |  Japan  |  Hanging scroll; ink, color, and gold on silk  |  Rogers Fund, 1957 (57.156.6)
    1280930
  • Two Views of the Head  |  1746  |  Jacques-Fabien Gautier-Dagoty (French) after Joseph Guichard Duverney (French)  |  Plate 4 of Myologie complète en coleur et grandeur naturelle  |  Multiple-plate color mezzotint  |  Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1928 (28.52.2)
    8121024
  • Leaves from a Beatus Manuscript  |  ca. 1180  |  Spanish (Burgos, Castile-Leòn)  |  Tempera, gold, and ink on parchment, metal leaf  |  Purchase, The Cloisters Collection, Rogers and Harris Brisbane Dick Funds, and Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, 1991 (1991.232.1–.14)
    960901
  • Leaves from a Beatus Manuscript  |  ca. 1180  |  Spanish (Burgos, Castile-Leòn)  |  Tempera, gold, and ink on parchment, metal leaf  |  Purchase, The Cloisters Collection, Rogers and Harris Brisbane Dick Funds, and Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, 1991 (1991.232.1–.14)
    12801000
  • View of London from Greenwich  |  1825  |  Joseph Mallord William Turner (British)  |  Watercolor and gouache over graphite  |  Bequest of Alexandrine Sinsheimer, 1958 (59.23.23)
    13571024
  • Woman with a Lute  |  ca. 1662–63  |  Johannes Vermeer (Dutch)  |  Oil on canvas  |  Bequest of Collis P. Huntington, 1900 (25.110.24)
    8941024
  • Woman with a Lute  |  ca. 1662–63  |  Johannes Vermeer (Dutch)  |  Oil on canvas  |  Bequest of Collis P. Huntington, 1900 (25.110.24)
    16781024
  • Astronomicum Caesareum  |  1540  |  Michael Ostendorfer (German); Written by Petrus Apianus (German)  |  Hand-colored woodcuts  |  Gift of Herbert N. Straus, 1925 (25.17)
    7141024
  • Celestial Globe with Clockwork  |  1579  |  Movement by Gerhard Emmoser (Austrian)  |  Made in Vienna, Austria  |  Case of silver, partly gilt, and gilt brass; movement of brass and steel  |  Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917 (17.190.636)
    7441024
  • "Maps" by Melanie Holcomb
    1280852
  • I'm Melanie Holcomb and I'm a curator of Medieval art at the Metropolitan Museum.

  • I live in Brooklyn and I take the subway to work every day.

  • I love the New York subway.

  • I am fanatic about it. It's complex. It's intricate. If one line doesn't work another one will. And I am

  • astounded by how much of that information is conveyed in the subway map, which is just an extraordinary piece of communication.

  • What's great about the subway map is that it's not only about spatial distances, about

  • relative relationships between one stop to another. It also conveys time.

  • And this gets me back to the Met,

  • like this celestial globe that charts time and space, not just the position of the stars, but their movement over the year as well.

  • Look at this one from the Marshall Islands. It was made by a navigator, not so much as a map in the western sense of the word, but as an aid to remembering the swells and currents of the ocean.

  • I wonder why it is that we love maps so much.

  • I think in part it has to do with the fact that it allows us to be

  • God for a minute. It allows us to understand

  • the underlying order of a vast geographical space

  • or a complex system of things we cannot

  • even see; the heavens or

  • the body, like this map of the inside of the head,

  • or maybe just places that are faraway, and it allows us to grasp it all

  • in a single glance. But it also allows us to entertain the possibility of a journey

  • of imagining how were going to get from one place to another and what those various routes are.

  • You know with this Vermeer painting, I use to always look at the woman and think about the room that she's in, but now

  • I also see the map and I think of all the places it takes me to.

  • Is it about grasping the world at a single glance? Or is it about

  • setting off on a journey? Hmm, it's a little of both, I think, that makes maps or looking at maps such a

  • pleasurable experience.

  • 1971.646.18
    [Subway Passengers], 1938, Walker Evans (American), Gelatin silver print Gift of Arnold H. Crane, 1971 (1971.646.18)
  • 1994.253.510.2
    [View Down Subway Car with Accordionist Performing in Aisle, New York City], 1938, Walker Evans (American), Negative Walker Evans Archive, 1994 (1994.253.510.2)
  • 91.1.535a-h
    Astrolabe, 1291, Yemen, Pierced and engraved brass Bequest of Edward C. Moore, 1891 (91.1.535a–h)
  • 1978.412.826
    Navigational Chart (Rebbilib), 19th–early 20th century, Marshallese people, Marshall Islands, Coconut midrib, fiber The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Gift of the Estate of Kay Sage Tanguy, 1963 (1978.412.826)
  • 1977.467.3
    Memory Board (Lukasa), 19th–20th century, Democratic Republic of Congo; Luba, Wood Gift of the Britt Family Collection, 1977 (1977.467.3)
  • 51.537.1
    Celestial Map of the Northern Sky, 1515, Albrecht Dürer (German), Woodcut Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1951 (51.537.1)
  • 1975.1.31
    The Creation of the World and the Expulsion from Paradise, 1445, Giovanni di Paolo (Giovanni di Paolo di Grazia) (Italian, Sienese), Tempera on panel Robert Lehman Collection, 1975 (1975.1.31)
  • 1988.350
    The Qianlong Emperor's Southern Inspection Tour, Scroll Six: Entering Suzhou and the Grand Canal, Qing dynasty, dated 1770, Xu Yang (Chinese), Handscroll; ink and color on silk Purchase, The Dillon Fund Gift, 1988 (1988.350)
  • 57.156.6
    Taima mandala, Kamakura period, 12th–14th century, Unidentified artist, Japan, Hanging scroll; ink, color, and gold on silk Rogers Fund, 1957 (57.156.6)
  • 28.52.2
    Two Views of the Head, 1746, Jacques-Fabien Gautier-Dagoty (French) after Joseph Guichard Duverney (French), Plate 4 of Myologie complète en coleur et grandeur naturelle, Multiple-plate color mezzotint Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1928 (28.52.2)
  • 1991.232.1-.14_av1
    Leaves from a Beatus Manuscript, ca. 1180, Spanish (Burgos, Castile-Leòn), Tempera, gold, and ink on parchment, metal leaf Purchase, The Cloisters Collection, Rogers and Harris Brisbane Dick Funds, and Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, 1991 (1991.232.1–.14)
  • 59.23.23
    View of London from Greenwich, 1825, Joseph Mallord William Turner (British), Watercolor and gouache over graphite Bequest of Alexandrine Sinsheimer, 1958 (59.23.23)
  • 25.110.24
    Woman with a Lute, ca. 1662–63, Johannes Vermeer (Dutch), Oil on canvas Bequest of Collis P. Huntington, 1900 (25.110.24)
  • 25.17_av4
    Astronomicum Caesareum, 1540, Michael Ostendorfer (German); Written by Petrus Apianus (German), Hand-colored woodcuts Gift of Herbert N. Straus, 1925 (25.17)
  • 17.190.636
    Celestial Globe with Clockwork, 1579, Movement by Gerhard Emmoser (Austrian), Made in Vienna, Austria, Case of silver, partly gilt, and gilt brass; movement of brass and steel Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917 (17.190.636)
  • [Subway Passengers], 1938, Walker Evans (American), Gelatin silver print Gift of Arnold H. Crane, 1971 (1971.646.18)
    [View Down Subway Car with Accordionist Performing in Aisle, New York City], 1938, Walker Evans (American), Negative Walker Evans Archive, 1994 (1994.253.510.2)
    Astrolabe, 1291, Yemen, Pierced and engraved brass Bequest of Edward C. Moore, 1891 (91.1.535a–h)
    Navigational Chart (Rebbilib), 19th–early 20th century, Marshallese people, Marshall Islands, Coconut midrib, fiber The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Gift of the Estate of Kay Sage Tanguy, 1963 (1978.412.826)
    Memory Board (Lukasa), 19th–20th century, Democratic Republic of Congo; Luba, Wood Gift of the Britt Family Collection, 1977 (1977.467.3)
    Celestial Map of the Northern Sky, 1515, Albrecht Dürer (German), Woodcut Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1951 (51.537.1)
    The Creation of the World and the Expulsion from Paradise, 1445, Giovanni di Paolo (Giovanni di Paolo di Grazia) (Italian, Sienese), Tempera on panel Robert Lehman Collection, 1975 (1975.1.31)
    The Qianlong Emperor's Southern Inspection Tour, Scroll Six: Entering Suzhou and the Grand Canal, Qing dynasty, dated 1770, Xu Yang (Chinese), Handscroll; ink and color on silk Purchase, The Dillon Fund Gift, 1988 (1988.350)
    Taima mandala, Kamakura period, 12th–14th century, Unidentified artist, Japan, Hanging scroll; ink, color, and gold on silk Rogers Fund, 1957 (57.156.6)
    Two Views of the Head, 1746, Jacques-Fabien Gautier-Dagoty (French) after Joseph Guichard Duverney (French), Plate 4 of Myologie complète en coleur et grandeur naturelle, Multiple-plate color mezzotint Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1928 (28.52.2)
    Leaves from a Beatus Manuscript, ca. 1180, Spanish (Burgos, Castile-Leòn), Tempera, gold, and ink on parchment, metal leaf Purchase, The Cloisters Collection, Rogers and Harris Brisbane Dick Funds, and Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, 1991 (1991.232.1–.14)
    View of London from Greenwich, 1825, Joseph Mallord William Turner (British), Watercolor and gouache over graphite Bequest of Alexandrine Sinsheimer, 1958 (59.23.23)
    Woman with a Lute, ca. 1662–63, Johannes Vermeer (Dutch), Oil on canvas Bequest of Collis P. Huntington, 1900 (25.110.24)
    Astronomicum Caesareum, 1540, Michael Ostendorfer (German); Written by Petrus Apianus (German), Hand-colored woodcuts Gift of Herbert N. Straus, 1925 (25.17)
    Celestial Globe with Clockwork, 1579, Movement by Gerhard Emmoser (Austrian), Made in Vienna, Austria, Case of silver, partly gilt, and gilt brass; movement of brass and steel Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917 (17.190.636)
    8000–2000 B.C.
    2000–1000 B.C.
    1000 B.C.–1 A.D.
    1–500 A.D.
    500–1000 A.D.
    1000–1400 A.D.
    1400–1600 A.D.
    1600–1800 A.D.
    1800–1900 A.D.
    1900–Present

    Works of art in order of appearance

    Last Updated: August 19, 2013. Not all works of art in the Museum's collection may be on view on a particular day. For the most accurate location information, please check this page on the day of your visit.

    [Subway Passengers]
    1938
    Walker Evans (American)
    Gelatin silver print
    Gift of Arnold H. Crane, 1971 (1971.646.18)
    Not on view
    PhotographsSecond Floor
    [View Down Subway Car with Accordionist Performing in Aisle, New York City]
    1938
    Walker Evans (American)
    Negative
    Walker Evans Archive, 1994 (1994.253.510.2)
    Not on view
    PhotographsSecond Floor
    Astrolabe
    1291
    Yemen
    Pierced and engraved brass
    Bequest of Edward C. Moore, 1891 (91.1.535a–h)
    On view: Gallery 454
    Islamic ArtSecond Floor
    Navigational Chart (Rebbilib)
    19th–early 20th century
    Marshallese people, Marshall Islands
    Coconut midrib, fiber
    The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Gift of the Estate of Kay Sage Tanguy, 1963 (1978.412.826)
    Not on view
    Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the AmericasFirst Floor
    Memory Board (Lukasa)
    19th–20th century
    Democratic Republic of Congo; Luba
    Wood
    Gift of the Britt Family Collection, 1977 (1977.467.3)
    Not on view
    Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the AmericasFirst Floor
    Celestial Map of the Northern Sky
    1515
    Albrecht Dürer (German)
    Woodcut
    Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1951 (51.537.1)
    Not on view
    Drawings and PrintsSecond Floor
    The Creation of the World and the Expulsion from Paradise
    1445
    Giovanni di Paolo (Giovanni di Paolo di Grazia) (Italian, Sienese)
    Tempera on panel
    Robert Lehman Collection, 1975 (1975.1.31)
    On view: Gallery 956
    The Robert Lehman CollectionFirst Floor
    The Qianlong Emperor's Southern Inspection Tour, Scroll Six: Entering Suzhou and the Grand Canal
    Qing dynasty, dated 1770
    Xu Yang (Chinese)
    Handscroll; ink and color on silk
    Purchase, The Dillon Fund Gift, 1988 (1988.350)
    Not on view
    Asian ArtSecond Floor
    Taima mandala
    Kamakura period, 12th–14th century
    Unidentified artist
    Japan
    Hanging scroll; ink, color, and gold on silk
    Rogers Fund, 1957 (57.156.6)
    Not on view
    Asian ArtSecond Floor
    Two Views of the Head
    1746
    Jacques-Fabien Gautier-Dagoty (French) after Joseph Guichard Duverney (French)
    Plate 4 of Myologie complète en coleur et grandeur naturelle
    Multiple-plate color mezzotint
    Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1928 (28.52.2)
    Not on view
    Drawings and PrintsSecond Floor
    Leaves from a Beatus Manuscript
    ca. 1180
    Spanish (Burgos, Castile-Leòn)
    Tempera, gold, and ink on parchment, metal leaf
    Purchase, The Cloisters Collection, Rogers and Harris Brisbane Dick Funds, and Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, 1991 (1991.232.1–.14)
    Not on view
    Medieval Art and The CloistersFirst Floor
    View of London from Greenwich
    1825
    Joseph Mallord William Turner (British)
    Watercolor and gouache over graphite
    Bequest of Alexandrine Sinsheimer, 1958 (59.23.23)
    Not on view
    Drawings and PrintsSecond Floor
    Woman with a Lute
    ca. 1662–63
    Johannes Vermeer (Dutch)
    Oil on canvas
    Bequest of Collis P. Huntington, 1900 (25.110.24)
    On view: Gallery 632
    European PaintingsSecond Floor
    Astronomicum Caesareum
    1540
    Michael Ostendorfer (German); Written by Petrus Apianus (German)
    Hand-colored woodcuts
    Gift of Herbert N. Straus, 1925 (25.17)
    Not on view
    Drawings and PrintsSecond Floor
    Celestial Globe with Clockwork
    1579
    Movement by Gerhard Emmoser (Austrian)
    Made in Vienna, Austria
    Case of silver, partly gilt, and gilt brass; movement of brass and steel
    Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917 (17.190.636)
    On view: Gallery 520
    European Sculpture and Decorative ArtsFirst Floor

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