Visualisation, description, orientation
Martin Zeiller’s oeuvre Topographia Galliae keenly highlights the differences and similarities between the noble and powerful “endroits” of the French Kingdom. For that purpose, the geographer does not only utilize the written language, but also strengthens the oeuvre with a great many of copper engravings crafted by Gaspard Merian.
While riffling through the book, I noticed that there is a very structured arrangement of the written text and the copper engravings. The thirteen volumes of Topographia Galliae commence with a rather pompous frontispiece and continue with a short text which is always dedicated to the aristocracy of the locality, as for example to the mayor. The following section captions the record for the bookbinder of the enclosed copper engravings. After that, an introductory text and mostly a general plan of the location follow, where the whole outline is discussed. A more precise subsequent section dives deeper into the descriptions of the localities whereas paragraphs in different lengths and in alphabetic order describe the different places and quartiers. This party is also accompanied by a great deal of copperplates created by the engraver Matthäus Merian. There are always maps that summarise the described places which are followed by more detailed axonometric projections. Most of these captures are engravings that show “the daily life” of these places. Nevertheless, there are also some exceptions, where the reader has the opportunity to see the construction process of the illustrated place. Last but not least, a register finalizes the thirteen volumes.
This just specified structure might be a great orientating assistance to the reader of the rather long and exact description of the places of the French Kingdom. The graphics are not only a location plan, but also display an impression of the locality that is being discussed in the very volume. For this reason, the illustrations are an essential component of the oeuvre. One could almost assert, that the maps are not only mapping France’s noble locations, but also assist the reader with the sense of orientation through the book.
Talking of this concept, it is also worth mentioning, that Martin Zeiller did not only structure the content of the thirteen volumes, but also established a logic behind the order of the places discussed. He takes off in Paris, the heart of France, and continues the journey clockwise while consistently veering away a tiny bit more from this starting point.
In conclusion, Martin Zeiller and Matthäus Merian created a great piece of art that combines written language and illustrations, and thus structured the description of the places in a way, that helps the reader to keep the overview.