as spiritual landscapes, by senior curator Elka Deitsch
in part, because they are as much reflections of ideas as they are representations
of landmasses or oceans or galaxies. In diagramming geographic realities, cartographers
simultaneously map the cultures that help shape those realities.
Perhaps no landscape is
as fraught with significance as the Holy Land, the subject of this
exhibition. In the ancient world and throughout the Middle Ages, little distinction
was made between topographic and spiritual spaces. The nuclei of both spheres
met and melded in the sacred geography of the Holy Land. The Midrash
Tanhuma, a medieval Jewish source, puts it succinctly: The Land of Israel
is situated in the center of the world, and Jerusalem in the center of the Land
of Israel . . . . Even after the Age of Exploration discredited Ptolemaic
cosmology, maps of the Holy Land continued to reflect a profound spiritual centrality
for the Judeo-Christian world.
The Journey and Life of Abraham the Patriarch, Abraham Ortelius, 1590
It is instructive to see
how a cartographer chooses to represent reality in a given map from among the
potential signifiers of place natural details, political boundaries,
religion, and history, to name a few. The maps in this exhibition employ all
of the conventional geographic components in the cartographers tool kit
mountains, valleys, streams, and oceans but they also run the
gamut of symbolic and fantastic imagery. Mythic creatures and biblical scenarios
are literally set within imagined geography, each map intending to bolster an
intrinsic value judgment, vision, or message of the Holy Land.
Borders and Boundaries:
Maps of the Holy Land, 15th 19th Centuries is an attempt to explore
not only the way in which people interpret physical space, but also the way
in which maps read spiritual landscapes through a language of symbol,
allegory, shape, and form. Maps have served as beacons to itinerant voyagers,
blueprints for vicarious pilgrimages, and didactic tools. They have also represented
specific worldviews within which were embodied the yearnings and historical
memories of a Judeo-Christian sensibility. It is precisely this dual nature
that endows these maps of the Holy Land with such substance and beauty.