School of English, University London
This lecture is about the way the familiar landscape of art and culture which we inhabit has, historically, formed our ideas of beauty and shaped our aesthetic preferences. I am interested in the successive transformations, and, indeed, deformations of cartographic space within which our European forebears encountered, and sought ownership of the exotic and rare, and the way artistic development was refracted through the lens of territorial claims and aspirations to ownership. Like other graphic representations, a map is not an innocent version of the relative positions of places on the terrestrial globe. A Renaissance map records the aspirations of the person for whom it is designed to be 'Lord of all that he surveys'.
I shall base my discussion around a body of imposing sixteenth century tapestries, some of which incorporate surprisingly precise contemporary maps, and all of which make decisive interventions as claims to the territorial supremacy of the Habsburg Emperor Charles V and his dynasty. These priceless art-works travelled from the Low Countries to Spain and Portugal, from Spain to England and France, objects of wonder which insisted graphically on the political supremacy of their owner. I shall argue that unless we grasp the continuous involvement of art manufacture and exchanges with contests between competing imperial powers, we will do less than justice to the lasting importance of the European Renaissance.