Thursday, June 16, 2011

Anthropomorphic and Zoomorphic Satirical Maps:#1

Detail of India from “The Illustration of The Great European War No.16 -- A humorous Atlas of the World,” by Tanaka, published in Japan, 1914.  A rare satirical / political map from the Asian Perspective. 

There is a whole genre in map-making that entails using anthropomorphic or zoomorphic figures in maps.  This is a tradition that began in the mediaeval times and continues until the present day.  There are several sub-genres of these anthropomorphic maps, one of which is the satirical or political cartoon type map which uses animals or people to create the outline borders of nations.  These are very cleverly done, and are often brilliant commentaries on events or circumstances of the day, usually espousing a partisan point of view of the facts.  In some ways, these are off-shoots of the sub-genre of propaganda maps, and reached their apogee right before and during World War I in Europe.  Unfortunately, much of the iconography is lost on modern viewers, because we are no longer familiar with what the symbols stand for.  But viewers back in the days when the maps were published would have undoubtedly gotten a big chuckle of recognition over the manner in which many of their neighboring nations, both enemies and allies, were portrayed, feeding into deeply-held stereotypes and prejudices.  This is similar to some of the recent politically incorrect maps that I featured in an earlier blog posting, (but minus the animal symbolization).  (See 
            I have (way too) many examples of these kinds of maps, some of which I include here, but this is by no means an exhaustive collection.  The majority of these types of maps are from the period 1870-1920, but I have also assembled some more recent ones which are quite good, which will be featured in the next posting.  Below are some of the best of the rest, more or less in chronological order, starting with some earlier mediaeval ones that are non-satirical but still symbolic and allegorical.  In general, mediaeval maps, even the ones purporting to be an accurate reflection of reality, were often infused with symbolism and religious iconography, as seen, for example, in the T-in-O maps and other mappae mundi.  Also, there is a rich tradition in European cartography of drawing mythical beasts and imaginary people in the margins of the maps, not only to act as “fillers” for unknown parts of the globe, but also to illustrate (at least in the cartographer’s mind) what kind of creatures you would be likely to find in these parts.  These maps with extensive marginalia were also precursors to the anthropomorphic maps below. 

  Opicinus de Canistris Map of the World, 1296-1300
“In de Canistris's maps the physical geography is adapted somewhat to animal and human forms - the image of a king conforms to the shape/content of Europe, with the image of his queen forming North Africa.  There is no further attempt to personify any other landmasses; however, the Bay of Biscay adjacent to France takes on the form of a lion with his mouth agape; and the Eastern Mediterranean is shown as an old bearded man holding a dove, a book and a scepter. There is no real attempt to depict the landmasses with any degree of current geographical knowledge, the British Isles, Ireland, and Scandinavia are drawn crudely even by the standards of the day. However, the purpose of these maps were obviously not geographical or navigational, but purely a fascinating, eye-catching medium for conveying a set of ideas.” From:

Europe as Queen of the World, ca. 1537
Originally designed by Johannes Putsch (Bucius) in 1537 and later published in Sebastian Munster’s Cosmographia.  Munster also published the first separate map of the European continent in Geographica 1540, which was intended to represent the “reality” of contemporary Europe.  But Europe as the Queen of the World is meant as a “metaphor, in which hidden meanings and a much deeper ‘essence’ could be interpreted through the employment of allegory and symbol, through the use of imagination and anthropomorphism.”  From:

 Fool’s Cap Map of the World, ca. 1580-1590
Perhaps a strange commentary on the foolishness or futility of the then-current craze for exploration and global mapping?  “This rather sinister image is one of the biggest mysteries in the history of western cartography.  Most often referred to simply as the Fool’s Cap Map of the World, it is unknown why, when, where and by whom it was made.  The only thing that can be said about it with some certainty is that it dates from ca. 1580-1590.  But sources even differ as to the type of projection used, some referring to it as ptolemaic (i.e. equidistant conic), others claiming it owes more to the techniques of Mercator and/or Ortelius.  The map shows the world ‘dressed up’ in the traditional garb of a court jester: the double-peaked, bell-tipped cap and the jester’s staff. The face is hidden (or replaced) by the map, giving the whole image an ominous, threatening quality that feels anachronistically modern.”  From:

 The Near East as Pegasus, 1581
This map is among the earliest representations of a land mass in the form of an animal (or human).  “The cartographer Heinrich Bunting [1545-1606] was a contemporary of Merkator and Munster.  He included three anthropomorphic maps in his successful scientific atlas ‘Travels according to the Holy Scriptures’: The world as a flower, Europe as a woman, The Near East as the flying horse Pegasus.  In 'Pegasus Map' the face is Anatolia, the chest is in the Holy Land and the legs are in Sinai Peninsula.  The head represents Asia Minor with the mouth at Istanbul.  The wings portray Central Asia and Siberia.  The Caspian Sea appears horizontally between the wings and the saddle.  Persia is delineated on the horse blanket with the forelegs forming Arabia.  The hind legs represent the Indian and Malay Peninsulas.  The atlas was published first in 1581 and had more than 60 editions till the end of the 18th century.” From:   

 The Belgian Lion, Leo Belgicus, 1583.  Image Source: Koninklijke Bibliotheek Belgie
Belgium, in the 16th century, referred to the Low Land Countries of what are today The Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg.  The Leo Belgicus map had a number of iterations, from about 1583 through to 1748.  The earliest one was created by Aitzinger, an Austrian cartographer, when the Netherlands were fighting the Eighty Years’ War for independence.  The map was depicting the heraldic lion, which occurs in the coats of arms of a number of the Dutch and Flemish provinces, and the head of the lion here (the Netherlandish provinces) are seen roaring at the mighty Spanish Empire .  Claes Janszoon Visscher and Jodocus Hondius also created versions of the Leo Belgicus map, and it was re-drawn and re-published at key political junctures in Netherlandish history spanning nearly 200 years (The Twelve Year Truce, the Peace of Westphalia, etc.).

 Johnny Bull on a Whale: Geography Bewitched or, a Droll Caricature Map of England and Wales, 1793, Designed by Robert Dighton; published in London by Bowles & Carver.  Image source: British Museum.  “Robert Dighton was well known as a portrait artist and is regarded as one of the most talented social caricaturists of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. He also achieved notoriety as a thief of valuable prints from the British Museum which he sold on the open art market to supplement his income from painting and etching. Ironically, many of Dighton's original drawings and print illustrations can be now be found in - you guessed it! - the British Museum Prints Room.”  From:

A New Map of England and France.  The French Invasion; - or - John Bull Bombarding France With Bum-Boats, by Gillray, 1793
“This caricature….deals with the then very acute British fear of a French invasion.  At that moment in time, France was raging with a revolutionary fervour, perhaps comparable to Iran at the height of its Islamic revolution, vis-à-vis the threat that emanated from it towards the surrounding established regimes.  One could call this caricature a fine example of scatological cartography, since George III [John Bull] “craps vigourously on the coast of France, dispersing a number of tiny gunboats (…) The image is gross, but the King’s evacuations are heroic, patriotic and contemptuous, expressing the feelings of the brutish but uncensored John Bull, whom he here embodies.” George III indeed literally embodies England, with Northumberland as his nightcap, Kent and Cornwall as his feet and the ‘bum-boats’ fanning out from his bottom-cheeks, situated somewhere between the busy ports of Bournemouth and Portsmouth. “The ‘British Declaration’ (also) emitting from John Bull’s backside refers to a royal promise that the port of Toulon, then occupied by the British, would be ceded to France on the restitution of its monarchy.”  Both preceding quotes were taken from a catalog accompanying an exhibit at London’s Tate Museum in 2000, entitled: ‘James Gillray: The Art of Caricature.’  This James Gillray (1757-1815) etched bitingly satirical caricatures of contemporary political and social issues.  Most of his baroque-ish, Rubenesque work was published between 1792 and 1810. He is considered a major influence on caricaturists to this day.” From:

 France as a Ship, 1796
Published in London shortly after the French Revolution, it is a naval metaphor for the Ship of State.  It should be noted that the English, still strong monarchists, were in general appalled by the French Revolution, and sympathized with the fallen monarchy.  The English were (rightfully) concerned about the rapid change in affairs in their traditional enemy’s government, and what it would portend for them.
The cartouche in the lower left reads: “The Kingdom of France is represented under the form of a ship, that, being the arms of Paris, and that City being known on the 13th and 14th of July 1789, by its insurrection, to have given so great a shock to the monarchy, that its influence extended to all the provinces, except those distinguished as land. The Vendeans remaining stedfast in the Royal Cause, and to the present time preferring death to a renunciation of their principles: are supposed, embarked, to recover the lost standard of their ancient Constitution.” It is interesting to see how the cartographer transformed the shape of France into a ship, making the revolutionary provinces into parts of the ship, while making the provinces that resisted the revolution into land (Brittany, Gascony, etc.).  The broken away anchor represents how the now king-less France is adrift and unmoored.  The royal flag with the fleur-de-lys is being rescued by the counter-revolutionaries in the small boat, while the main ship flies a red pennant, (approximating the location of Paris, the ground zero of the revolt) symbolizing the blood shed during the revolution.  From:

Whimsical Sketch of Europe, 1806  Published in London by Laurie & Whittle, Image Source: British Museum
“Great Britain is an adaptation of map above inscribed 'Johnny Bull on a Whale'; a thistle growing out of his head represents 'Scotland'; an Irish harp is 'Ireland'.  The contour of Europe is roughly correct; on most of the countries are little figures or scenes.  On 'France' a landscape (torn).  On 'Spain' a whole length portrait of (?) Charles IV, hanging askew.  On 'Switzerland' a funeral urn flanked by yews.  On 'Portugal', as on 'Italy', a landscape.  On 'Holland' a Dutch toper. On (west) 'Germany' crowned heads looking out through prison bars.  On 'Prussia' is an infantry soldier.  On 'Sweden' a reindeer sledge; ' Norway' and 'Denmark' are blank.  On 'Russia' are polar bears, &c. In 'Turkey' a Turk advances towards Britannia, who is seated, with cap of Liberty, Lion, and olive-branch.”

See Part 2 of Anthropomorphic and Zoomorphic Satirical Maps at

Some good websites on anthropomorphic and satirical maps, with a number of examples I haven’t shown above:
There is a whole website devoted to octopi in cartoons! “The Octopus in Propaganda and Political Cartoons” at


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