Exhibition "Livonia in the Cartographic Editions of the 16th – 17th Centuries: Insight into the Values of the Collection of the National Library of Latvia"

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Image: Livonia, 1673, G. Merkator map
Image: Livonia, 1673, G. Merkator map
Thu, 24/01/2013 to Thu, 28/02/2013

Exhibition Hall (14 K.Barona St.)

The exhibition "Livonia in the Cartographic Editions of the 16th – 17th Centuries: Insight into the Values of the Collection of the National Library of Latvia” is open to the public until March 2nd, 2013. The exhibition is arranged from library collection materials and serves as a testimony to the common history of the two neighbouring countries of Latvia and Estonia.  

Since the establishment of the National Library of Latvia a remarkable number of the early maps with the depiction of Livonia have been collected. In 2001 Catthorpe Manor (Straumēni), the depository of Latvian cultural values of the Daugavas Vanagu Fonds (Latvian Welfare Fund) – made a significant donation to the library which included the prophet Ringolds Mužiks’ (1914-2000) collection. Currently the collection includes 44 Livonian maps of the 16th – 17th centuries, as well as various European, Scandinavian, Polish and others with a partial or complete depiction of Latvian and Estonian territories.

The 16th - 17th century maps depict a historical unity dating back to 1225, under nominal jurisdiction of the Holy Roman Empire Livonia or Māra’s land (Terra Mariana) which was made up from present-day territories of Vidzeme, Latgale and southern Estonia (later due to inner quarrels – the Livonian confederation). Apart from the aforementioned territories, the maps also include Zemgale, Kurzeme, and the earlier Samogitia. The territories on the east coast of the Baltic Sea (except Lithuania) were referred to as Livonia even after the end of the Livonian Order in 1561, when the Livonian War split the territory into three provinces: Livland (contemporary Vidzeme), Latgale and Southern Estonia, as well as Saaremaa, Kurzeme and Zemgale, and Estonia (current Northern Estonia). The administrative unity of Vidzeme and southern Estonia was preserved even after the North War throughout its inclusion in the Russian territories, though this latter period is not covered in the exhibition.

Livonia appeared as a place name as early as the 13th century, but unfortunately the original maps are lost. The earliest maps referencing Livonia, albeit minimally and with an approximate coastline visualisation, date back to the 16th century, woodcuts drawn according to Claudius Ptolemy’s design (87-150). On Ptolemy’s maps the characteristic system of parallels of the A-line frame is marked according to the longest day of the year. A major name regarding the specification of the maps of Northern Europe, is the Swedish cartographer O. Magnus, who included the Baltic Sea and Livonia in the 16th century. One of the oldest Library collection with a legible Livonia, is the exhibited copy of “Tavola nuova di Prussia et de Livonia” map, published in 1562 by T. K. Ruscelli (around 1500-1566), and included in Ptolemy’s “Geography” (1548) published by Italian G. Gastaldi. In the 16th century the Dutch began dominating the field of cartography. A. Ortelius (1527-1598) issued a new type of edition – the atlas „Theatrum orbis terrarum”, featuring J. Portant’s map of Livonia, the most widely known early map of the region. The exhibition features the work of G. Mercator - another remarkable Dutchman, where the line of Livonia is drawn close to those seen in contemporary maps. The cartography of the Baltic Sea region is a significant section. With the draughtsmanship of mariners, and the surveying of Livonian lands by Swedish 17th century surveyors, the quality of the maps improved, stepping away from antiquity.

Though early maps are of little practical use today, they are a wonder to researchers looking for historical regularity, and the enthusiasts of ancient relics. The maps are works of art hand-drawn geographic and landscape elements, ethnographic pictures and enthralling letters and lines; the handwritten colouring makes each one exceptional.