THE first ever printed image of Scotland is set to go on public display as part of a major exhibition of some of the world’s most magnificent maps.
The National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh has one of just three copies of gifted cartographer Paolo Forlani’s handiwork – which he produced without even visiting Scotland, drawing inspiration from an early map of Britain.
It is offering visitors a rare chance to inspect the 1560 map alongside a host of ground-breaking and unusual maps charting the evolution of Edinburgh, Scotland and Europe since the 16th century.
Drawn from more than two million items in the library’s collection of maps – one of the biggest in the world – the exhibition features everything from a 1834 chart of the Firth of Forth to a modern-day map of smells in Edinburgh.
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The show, which runs until 3 April, includes a map of Britain’s horserace meetings in 1907, a population density chart of the UK from 1849 and a railway and steamship map of Europe, designed for tourists in 1930.
Planned long before the Brexit vote, the exhibition offers a timely opportunity to relive a map of Europe, produced in 1815, highlighting its “political divisions”. There is also a war map of Europe, created when conflict broke out in 1914, and a United Nations world map, produced in the wake of the Second World War. Forlani’s map of Scotland, which has evidence of its Venetian origins in its watermarks, is being featured in a major exhibition for the first time since being purchased from the Royal Scottish Geographical Society, which was given the map in 1919.
Exhibition curator Paula Williams said: “This is a very rare chance to see the first printed map of Scotland as there are only three known copies anywhere in the world.
“[Forlani] was quite a prolific map-maker from Verona and was working at a time when Italian cartographers were probably the best in the world – they could produce the best quality of engraving and also had the greatest output.
“He actually copied Scotland from the very first printed map of Great Britain. It was very common for mapmakers to borrow each other’s work. Given that he had never been to Scotland, his map is actually not that bad at all. It is still recognisably Scotland.”
The exhibition explores the skills needed to produce accurate maps and features a memory board where visitors will be urged to pinpoint their favourite places in Edinburgh. A highlight is a chance to see a map of the world from the 17th century Dutch “Blaeu Atlas Maior,” which runs to 11 volumes, 594 maps and 3368 pages of text.
Ms Williams added: “We hope that by travelling from Edinburgh all the way to the ends of world people will think a little bit more about how maps are made and how we use them. We’re all so used to having maps on our phones and tablets, and using Ordnance Survey, that we assume they are accurate and true but, of course, they’re not. As soon as you shrink down the world you have to leave stuff out.
“The whole thing about Britain being a small island is completely false when you compare it with the rest of Europe.”