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Friday 18 June 2010

Galleria delle Carte Geografiche

Thinking about maps in relation to power and politics reminds me of a visit to the Galleria delle Carte Geografiche in the Vatican otherwise know as the Hall of Maps. The gallery includes a series of frescoed maps of Italy and it's regions from drawings by the geographer Ignazio Danti . The maps were commissioned by Pope Julius XIII between 1580 and 1583, with later additions by Lukas Holste in 1631.
By commissioning the maps Pope Gregory XIII was attempting to revive the notion of Italy as a political unit at a time when it had devolved into many small states. The gallery of maps was inspired by descriptions of a great map of Italia said to have existed in the meeting hall at the temple of Tellus which was a meeting place for the Roman Senate on several occasions.
The frescos deliberately paired maps of "ancient Italy" with "new (modern) Italy" in an attempt to reinforce the papacy's claim to the inheritance of Roman imperial territory. The frescos are breathtaking in their scale and colour, as you walk through the hall, you are almost wrapped and surrounded by them, they are an exercise in power and control, they make connections and persuasively advocate the papacy's chosen viewpoint. It is quite some years since that visit and yet the impression made upon me remains vivid, the lands described have a visceral presence.

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