Medieval Maps, Monsters & Ancient & Modern Myths – Julie Pryor

This piece, although new, was not developed specially for the ‘Mapping’ exhibition as I was working on it some six months before the TFSW was proposed – but it fitted into the TFSW brief so well!.

I have always loved maps & especially old ones for the stories they tell beyond the simply geographic, and the subject seemed an ideal choice for  exploring ways of using Vanishing Muslin to represent aged & distressed fabric rather than – as it is mainly used – just as an alternative to water-soluble film.

At the same time I was able to explore the use of an unfamiliar automatic stitch – ragged satin stitch – which I had found on my new Husqvarna machine, and use up some previously space-dyed fabric from my stash.

Design inspiration : Medieval Maps, Monsters & Ancient &  Modern  Myths

The style of the map is based on the St Beatus world map  which was painted  by the monks of Abbey of Saint-Sever c1050 A.D. as an illustration to St Beatus’s C8th works including Commentary on the Apocalypse  Its main goal is not to depict a geoographically exact depiction of the world and its continents, but to illustrate the primitive Diaspora of the Apostles, and it lies landscape with east at the top .

Medieval maps do typically contain written references or paintings of a wide variety of strange & mythical beasts, usually populating little known  or unexplored areas of the world. The wording on my map derives from several medieval map sources –

In his locis cenocephali nascuntur”  ( ‘in this place are the dog-headed men born’ or more colloquially – ‘the land of the dog-headed men’ ) is from  from the ‘Tabula Peutingeriana’ which is a beautiful medieval copy of a Roman Imperial map. References to tribes of dog-headed men can be found widely in medieval literature & maps

The ‘draco'(dragon) in the extreme south-eastern part of Africa, together with the aspis (asp or serpent) and basiliscus (basilisk) can be found on  The Ebstorf map (13th c.)

And the myth carries on………’Hic Dracones’ – here be dragons – or more accurately : “HC SVNT DRACONES” can be found on the Lenox Globe (ca. 1503-07, copper, 13cm in diameter  currently in the collection of the New York Public Library) and it is located on the Globe near to the current location of the Kimodo Dragons Strangely enough, in research  so far neither”HC SVNT DRACONES”nor .’Hic Dracones’ has been found on any other medieval map!.

So why our modern myth that ‘hic dracones’ – here be dragons -appears on many medieval maps representing dangers, or unknown places? Perhaps it got into early schools curricula because it was publicised by a critical assessment of the  globe in an article for ‘The Magazine of American History’ in September 1879 ? Or perhaps – as for me –as a result of reading the Dorothy L. Sayers’ short story “The Learned Adventure of the Dragon’s Head” in ‘Lord Peter Views the Body’ in which a character refers to having seen “hic dracones” on an old map………

Anyway, here in a very simple piece (which is in serious need on conservation before it crumbles away completely) are layer upon layer of beliefs which date back from the 8th C to the present day – and probably on into the future while people still believe ‘hic dracones’ was the primary symbol for danger to the medieval map artists


2 thoughts on “Medieval Maps, Monsters & Ancient & Modern Myths – Julie Pryor

  1. Pingback: Medieval maps | Selvaganesh

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