Art and Optics in the Hereford Map

An English Mappa Mundi, c. 1300

Marcia Kupfer

View Inside Price: $75.00

October 25, 2016
240 pages, 8 1/2 x 11
50 color + 50 b/w illus.
ISBN: 9780300220339

Published for the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art

A single, monumental mappa mundi (world map), made around 1300 for Hereford Cathedral, survives intact from the Middle Ages. As Marcia Kupfer reveals in her arresting new study, this celebrated testament to medieval learning has long been profoundly misunderstood. Features of the colored and gilded map that baffle modern expectations are typically dismissed as the product of careless execution. Kupfer argues that they should rightly be seen as part of the map’s encoded commentary on the nature of vision itself. Optical conceits and perspectival games formed part of the map’s language of vision, were central to its commission, and shaped its display, formal design, and allegorical fabric. These discoveries compel a sweeping revision of the artwork’s intellectual and art-historical genealogy, as well as its function and aesthetic significance, shedding new light on the impact of scientific discourses in late medieval art. 

Marcia Kupfer contributes to the study of medieval art as an independent scholar based in Washington, DC.

“In this groundbreaking analysis, Kupfer puts the [Hereford] map in the context of medieval theology, science (especially “moralized” optics), and artistic conventions. . . . The book is beautifully produced, with excellent and relevant color illustrations.”—Choice

 Won the Historians of British Art  2017 Book Award for Exemplary Scholarship on the Period before 1800