Up in Smoke

This 17th Century map was stuffed up a chimney to stop winter drafts. Now each tattered piece is being put back together by conservators.

map in linenFull map working

The map is a rare 17th Century print made by Dutch engraver, Gerard Valck. There are only two others of its kind known in existence. It arrived at the National Library of Scotland, rolled up in a plastic bag after having been stuffed up an Aberdeen chimney to block out the cold since Victorian times. Conservators at the Library ambitiously decided to take on the project, opening the map out, washing its tiny pieces and remounting the fragments onto a new backing. The map was first humidified in a chamber to gradually introduce moisture before the pieces could be flattened. More dramatically, larger pieces had to be washed in 40˚C baths for up to forty minutes. Using these methods, conservators managed to fit together this complex puzzle – magic.

Although it was balled up in the chimney for centuries, the map would have sat across a wall to be admired by 17th Century house guests. It would have reached out about 2 metres by 1 ½, and looked a little like the one in the background of Vermeer’s ‘Painter in his Studio’.

Vermeer

The map includes a centre image of Queen Mary and King William III, meaning it’s likely to date from around 1690. 17th Century maps were contentious and political, outlining the claims of Europe’s key powers. This one depicts important battles across the seascapes and lists Van Diemen’s Land, which the Dutch stumbled across in 1642. The mapped coastline of Australia would become a particular point of dispute. Matthew Flinders set out to circumnavigate and map Australia in 1801, using information from Dutch maps like this one to help him on his way. In the meantime his French rival, Nicolas Baudin, had started mapping out the coastline  from the opposite side. Baudin dotted the coast with French names. For example, he listed what Flinders had named St. Vincent Gulfs as Golfe Bonaparte and Josephine. It is also worth noting that this race to map and name Australia was based upon European cartography, ignoring traditional names and Indigenous understandings of place.

This 17th Century map would have been outdated quickly, probably one of the reasons for it to have been re-purposed as a chimney-filler. Despite its sorry state, being kept in the chimney probably prevented it from being discarded entirely. For his part, Valck had success in printing other things that, for a time, sat proudly on the walls of Europe’s gentry. He is fittingly also known for his prints of houses, fountains, gardens and…chimneys.

 

For a longer explanation and footage of the conservation process see:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WxxJpAYhzpg&feature=youtube

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