The Yale Map CollectionLink bannerMap HomeWhat's NewCollectionsOnline MapsGISYale Library HomeLinks  

Two Thousand Years of Three-Dimensional Mapmaking

Contemporary World Map, from a Venetian edition of Ptolemy Geographica

Bernadus Sylvanus of Eboli, Venice, 1511

This edition was printed in Venice by Jacobus Pentius de Leucho and contained twenty-eight woodcut maps. This map was the first to be printed in two colors. The cordiform, or heart-shaped projection, used here was one of the earliest of its kind and shows the eastern part of South America, Cuba, Hispaniola, and Labrador, and in the east the entire far eastern coastline of Asia. Dense groupings of hatched molehills are used on this map to portray relief. 

Nova Graecia (New Greece)

Sebastian Munster from Cosmographia, Basel, circa 1550

To contend with the difficulties of representing topography, this map resorts to a pictorial solution with little attempt at defining lineal scale. The molehill serves as a placeholder within the more accurately represented planimetric coastline. The strong repeated horizontals of the mountain bases take on a zipper-like appearance. This hand-colored map relies strictly on the elevational representation of mountains, trees, rivers, and architecture. The religious forms present in the architectural caricatures across the map reflect Munster�s interest in religion; he taught theology at the University of Heidelberg.

La Nuova Francia (New France)

Giacomo Gastaldi, Venice, 1556

Gastaldi was a skilled engineer in the service of the Venetian Republic. He was also one of the first professional cartographers, drawing and designing maps on commission. This is one of ten woodcut maps he produced for volume three of an edition of Giovanni Ramusio�s travel collection, Delle Navigazioni et Viaggi. Relief and various illustrations are drawn in elevation and juxtaposed upon the map. Rivers, drawn in plain, are laid atop mountains that appear frontally and define the limits of the mapped landscape. Changes in elevation are hinted at through the use of hatching, which in turn creates the effect of shadow. Color is used on the map to differentiate the lush green valleys from the brown mountainous areas. 

Tabula Itineraria Ex Illustri Peutingerorum Bibliotheca Marco Velsero (Peutinger Table)

Abraham Ortelius, Antwerp, 1598

The Tabula Peutingeriana, or Peutinger Table, is the only surviving example of a Roman map. The work represents the Roman Empire at its maximum extension in about 250 A.D., with some later additions up to about 500 A.D. It depicts the imperial highways of Rome, from Britain to the Ganges, on a one-foot-by-twenty-one-foot cartogram or �strip map.� Although geographic relations are not drawn to any sale, the map includes some 5,000 place names and gives accurate numeric distances between points.
A medieval manuscript copy of the map was found in a monastery in the sixteenth century, and was once owned by the sixteenth-century German humanist Konrad Peuntinger, from whom its name derives. Parts of the map were engraved and printed in 1591 by Marcus Velser. Ortelius re-drew the map in 1598, and it was printed by the firm of Moretus. Some examples of that issue have been preserved in roll form (like this copy), simulating the original manuscript.
The medieval version of this map portrays the mountains in elevation in the form of molehills; this sixteenth-century reproduction incorporates shadow. In both maps, buildings are drawn in elevation or axonometric projection and demarcate location, but, as in their portrayal of relief, they incorporate caricatures that do not represent actual variations in form. 

Helvetiae Descriptio, Aegidio Tschudo auct (Description of Switzerland, made by Aegidicus Tschudi)

From Abraham Ortelius, Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, 1560-1612

Ortelius�s Orbis Terrarum (Theater of the World) was the first modern atlas and the first assemblage of maps drawn in a uniform style and size. The included maps were borrowed from various cartographers and then reengraved to fit the single format. The atlas contained no maps from the classical era and it was based more on contemporary knowledge than on theory and myth as earlier maps had been. Gerardus Mercator, a friend of Ortelius, wrote that Ortelius had done much �to bring out the geographical truth, which is so corrupted by mapmakers.� 

Zuericher Kantonskarte (Canton of Zurich)

Hans Conrad Gyger, Zurich, 1667. Portion of a facsimile published Zurich: Bibliophile Drucke, 1967.

Swiss mathematician Hans Gyger�s detailed surveys made use of graphic triangulation a surveying technique employing trigonometry to establish exact relationships over long distances -- and yielded maps superior in both their accuracy and the density of surveyed points. In 1667 he drew the Zuericher Kantonskarte at a very large scale of 1:32,000. In order to convey the enormous quantity of collected information, Gyger depicted the mountain in a planimetric view for the first time in the history of cartography. The methods he devised incorporated three-dimensional shading and were, at the time, by far the most effective means of showing the land�s surface in relief. Because of their advanced methods, the maps and new techniques were considered military secret and were hidden from Gyger�s contemporaries.

Nova Helvetiae Tabula Geographica (New Geographic Map of Switzerland)

Johann Jakob Scheuzcher, Zurich, circa 1750

Scheuchzer was a mathematician, physician, and geographer who produced one of the first large-scale maps of Switzerland. He first printed an edition of this map in 1716. The engraving attempts to overcome the limitations of the molehill in portraying accurate relief information by including depictions of detailed localized scenes between the map and the border. As in Scheuchzer's Die Landschaft Toggenburg, men are portrayed here at the lowest elevations performing everyday agrarian tasks. The mountains that rise above them are dramatically lit and rise above the clouds to create an evangelical effect. 

Lausanne, plate 9 from Karte de Schweiz

Dr. I. Woerl, circa 1835. Lithography by B. Herder of Freiburg

This map is an example of the method developed by Major Johann G. Lehmann and first published in his Theorie der Beziechnung der Schiefen Flachen in 1799. The technique understood that light falls in vertical rays, and so incorporated the principle �the steeper, the darker.� With this method, the map is divided into sections called �slope hachures� that represent bands of equal elevation. Within these divisions, lines are drawn that represent a constant slope from their beginning to their end. The thickness of the lines varies in proportion to the angle of slope such that a steeper gradient appears darker. 

Manuscript Map Showing Part of the Province of Salzburg

France Weys, circa 1840

The copper engraving process developed in the sixteenth century allowed for a much more detailed black image than did woodcuts. Likewise the application of color on the delicate and detailed copper-engraved image had to be more transparent and reduced in its use for aesthetic reasons. In this hand-colored engraving, Weys uses a green color for intermediate elevations that envelop the slope-hachured mountainous terrain. The southern edge of the mapped area incorporates an incredible number of small connected circles to give the appearance of rocky areas. Weys used great care in developing a sense of texture through the use of various lines and color techniques throughout the composition. 

Carte Generale de la France par departmens. Servant a l�assemblage des 182 feuilles de al Care de France de Cassini (General map of France by departments. Part of a collection of 182 sheets of the French Carte de Cassini)

Charles Picquet, Paris, circa 1820

The Carte de Cassini was the first general topographic map of an entire country based on extensive triangulation and topographic surveys and was clearly, at the time, the most ambitious mapping project ever attempted. However, for all of its technological advances, its methods of terrain modeling characterize the inherent difficulties then existing in the portrayal of relief. While some heights are indicated on the map, the overall method of portraying relief using hachures is generally ineffective. The edges of rivers were hatched to resemble deep canyons in a relative flat landscape, while the ridges of mountains were left white with lines drawn perpendicular to them, thus taking on the appearance of hairy caterpillars. 

Bathymetrical Survey of the Fresh Water Lochs of Scotland, Loch Eilt

Surveyed by James Parson and T.R.H. Garrett under the direction of Sir John Murray and Laurence Pullar, 1902

This map, published by the Royal Geographical Society, includes spot elevations and depths, contours, isobaths, and hypsometric tints. Longitudinal and lateral sections through Loch Eilt provide a detailed description of the sub-aqueous terrain. While the land contours are taken from the Ordnance Survey, established by King George III, and are described in feet, the isobaths do not follow the Ordnance Survey�s use of fathoms but rather are measured in feet. The layer tints known as �hypsometric tints� use darker colors for higher elevations, consistent with the scheme implemented by Josef von Hauslab in 1864.

Carte du Fond des Lacs de Neuchatel et de Morat (Map of the bottom of the Neuchatel and Morat lakes)

Mr. Ald. Guyot and Cte. H. de Pourtals Gorgier, 1860

In this map, a minimal amount of line work and an effective use of blue coloring give a clear understanding of the terrain below the surface of the water. Accompanying the plan are a series of cross sections that further describe the topography and give exact depths at various points. Unlike elevations on land, depths in water could be easily established through the use of an instrument called the �lead and line.� This led to the development of the isobath, a line on a map that joins points on the bed of a body of water situated at an equal vertical distance beneath the surface. The first cartographer to employ a graphic technique incorporating such data was the Dutch surveyor Pieter Bruinss, who drew an isobath on his manuscript chart of the river Spaarne in 1584. The earliest known printed map to show an isobath is the Golfe du Lyon published in 1725 in Luigi de Marsigli�s Histoire physique de la mer.

Map of Oregon and Upper California from the Surveys of John Charles Fremont and Other Authorities

Drawn by Charles Preuss under the order of the Senate of the United States, Washington City, 1848

In 1842 Fremont was assigned to map the Oregon Trail through the Rocky Mountains. His report submitted to Congress in 1845, accompanied with a map by the German cartographer Preuss, cleared up many misconceptions about the Northwest and was an important tool in the American settlement and expansion of the region. At the top of this map is a sectional drawing titled �Profile of the Travelling Route from the South Pass of the Rocky Mountains to the Bay of San Francisco.� The section is measured in feet at 1000-foot increments. 

Mount McKinley

U.S. Army Map Service, 1951

The plastic relief model, which incorporates the �Lambert Conformal Conic Projection,� allows for one of the most readily understood methods of relief portrayal. With this method, the two dimensional surface of the map is created in a mold that distorts its plastic medium through heat and creates physical ridges and depressions. While extremely easy to read, the technique has not been widely accepted because of difficulties in its storage. Relief models have been used together with a instrument called a �bench camera,� which has an extremely long focal length, to produce accurate and fairly convincing shaded relief two-dimensional maps. 

Mount McKinley, Alaska

Surveyed and edited by Bradford Washburn. Wabern, Switzerland: Swiss Federal Office of Topography, 1980

Dr. Bradford Washburn has devoted a large portion of his life to the study and exploration of Mount McKinley. Now the director of the Boston Museum of Science, Washburn climbed McKinley�s summit by the Muldrow Route in 1942 and 1947, and was the responsible for the first ascent of the West Buttress in 1951. He led the first photographic flights over its summit for the National Geographic Society and Pan American Airways in 1936, and landed the first helicopter on the mountain in 1949. The over 200 days that he has lived on its slopes and studied its terrain is evident in this detailed cartographic masterpiece. The map was printed by the Federal Office of Topography in Switzerland and combines shaded relief with a soft range of blues that give the effect of an atmospheric haze over its entirety. By using the same palette for the contours, they do not overpower the map nor do they become the primary graphic element, as is often the case. This map of Mount McKinley, with its high degree of artistic and scientific achievement, represents a renaissance in mapmaking.

Collections | Online Maps | GIS | What's New | Links | Yale University Library

© 2000 Yale University Library

© 2000 Yale University Map Collection. All rights reserved.
Last updated August 10, 2000.