With Savage Pictures Fill their Gaps’: On Cartographers’ Fears of Blank Spaces, By Chet van Duzer
Historians of cartography occasionally refer to cartographers’ horror vacui, that is, their fear or hesitancy to leave spaces blank on maps that might be filled with decorations. Some scholars have denied that this impulse was a factor in the design of maps, but the question has never been examined carefully. The maps exhibited here show that a fear of empty spaces on maps, or at least a fondness for filling every available space, was indeed an important factor in the design of maps, at least for some cartographers, from the sixteenth to the early eighteenth century. In the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries maps began to be thought of as more purely scientific instruments, cartographic decoration declined generally, and cartographers managed to restrain their concern about spaces lacking decoration in the interest of presenting their work as modern and professional. Some cartographers adopted this new aesthetic before others, but as more and more cartographers did so, maps adopted their typically unadorned modern appearance.