Friday 7 May 2010

Europe - oddly misshapen

When I first picked up this card I glanced at it and thought it an attractive card, a reproduction of an old picture, something like that.  But I looked more closely and saw the writing on it.  So I turned it around and began to understand. A little.

There is little information on the card itself, posted from Prague last week. All it says is "Strahov Library - A symbolic map of Europe as a virgin (1592)".  A considerable amount of detective work has given me the following information.

The map is probably one by Heinrich Bunting who drew up many symbolic maps as well as more conventional ones.   This particular subject of Europe as a person was first drawn in 1537 but several other artist/cartographers later produced their own versions.

There are various interpretations of the image and the symbolism.  Some say the figure isn't a woman at all, but Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor from 1516 - 1556.  The explanation is that Spain was at the time the "crown of Europe" and the sceptre represents the alliance between Charles V and Henry VIII.

Alternatively, the figure could be a queen following the example of earlier maps where either the woman represents Princess Europa carried off by Zeus, or the Mother Church led away from the true path.

Another interpretation is that it represents the celebration of Hapsburg rule, with Spain as a crown, Bohemia as a medal at her heart, and Turkey and Russia are beneath her.  The British Isles are mere shapeless blobs.

It's opened up a whole new world of symbolic maps to me, one that I had no idea existed at all.

This is a post for Postcard Friday, which is hosted by Beth Niquette at The Best Hearts are Crunchy.
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  1. Very interesting find, if indeed it is Charles V the Holy Roman Emperor this may explain why Britain is just blobs as they had just turned from being catholic to protestant countries.

  2. What a neat looking way of looking at Europe! Happy PFF!

  3. What a great card. Symbolic maps are a fascinating insight into the past and its view of the world. Your interpretations add much to the puzzle.

  4. This was so interesting. That took some sleuthing.

  5. What an interesting postcard.

  6. It was a very common allegory among alchemists, to show Europe as a virgin. As the constellation virgo was related to the element earth. Read this:
    Or at least the europe part.

  7. I just picked up this card from the Strahov Monastery in Prague, it made quite a big impression on me. Thank you for the other details!

  8. So did I! I will always remember my visit to Strahov Monastery.


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