Deirdre Murphy - Portolan Charts

Artists are inherently curious about the world; both outer and inner worlds. Maps are a way to make sense of the spaces and places. Maps are a way to create a sense of order and knowing. People have been making maps since ancient times to aid in finding our place in this world.
In Drawing II we looked at the gorgeous Portolan maps and asked questions about both the meaning of the maps and appreciation for the compositional qualities of the drawings. We admired the red cartography intersecting lines and how they created a geometrical matrix like a mathematical spider web that tied the image together. We admired the scalloped edges of the land masses in viridian green and yellow ochre and venetian red pigments. The use of
text, keys and decorative elements were used to balance the composition and to explain meaning. We looked at the delicacy and deliberate hand that was used to make these jewels. We discussed who was the maker and who was the audience and to what purpose were these maps made.

Back in the studio classroom, we asked how we use maps in our culture? How do maps navigate our PLACE from google maps, subway maps, street maps? We looked at how maps are used to chart the SKY, MIND and BODY through Ocean maps, Astrological maps, Topographical maps and Neuroanatomy maps. We looked at how Maps hold DATA. We questioned, “How do maps inform who we are and how we navigate through our world? How does the lens of our ethnicity and identity affect how we process maps? “
It was our great pleasure and privilege to be in the midst of the Portolan maps, it was as if we were transported back in time and actually shared the same breath as the map. Pure magic and inspiration spilled out of the rare map and into the minds of the Lehigh University students and they in turn continued in the tradition of making their own maps to better understand their place in our ever changing world.

Deirdre Murphy, Assistant Teaching Professor
Department of Art, Architecture, and Design
Response to the Portolan Maps and Visual Culture