When you have absolutely no sense of direction and may even be geographically challenged, it seems remarkable to be drawn to maps. The delight of maps to me is not only the intrinsic beauty of them but that sense of their place in time and history as well as the stories that surround them. The National Library's Mapping Our World exhibition has given me the opportunity to encounter some of the greatest maps from the around the globe.
As a child I was fascinated by the BBC production of Henry VIII which sparked my interest in Tudor history. So, it is not unexpected that my favourite piece in the exhibition is a world map from The Boke of Idrography, presented to Henry VIII in 1542 by the French hydrographer Jean Rotz. This item was lent to the National Library by the British Library for the exhibition.
This magnificently decorated atlas was given to the formidable monarch five years before his death. His ill-health may have made him an unpredictable recipient. Rotz had only recently been appointed royal hydrographer.
I am sure not even an ill-tempered monarch in his failing years could resist the charms of this beautiful atlas. Considered one of the greatest maritime atlases of the Renaissance, the Boke comprises 16 large sheets of vellum. The world map, featured in the exhibition, is the last map in Rotz's atlas.
The world map features exquisitely decorated and richly coloured borders more typical of late 15th century, as well as individual wind heads with their windswept hair. The borders are thought to have been finished before the map was inserted.
The Rotz atlas is one of the most renowned of the so-called Dieppe maps, a series of maps produced in Dieppe, France, in the 1540-1560s which featured depictions of a southern continent named Jave la Grande. Indeed, the two- hemisphere world of Rotz's map also includes this extensive empty south land of Java, not shown on contemporary Portuguese maps.
Born in Dieppe, Rotz, like the two worlds depicted in this work, was from two worlds - his father was a Scottish seafarer and his mother French. According to Rotz, his maps drew from his own experiences and those of his friends and fellow navigators. The map interestingly uses languages including Latin, English and Portuguese.
As part of the Public Programs team at the National Library of Australia, I have had great pleasure in promoting this extraordinary exhibition. Recently, I was told by a self-confessed lover of maps that they ''lose themselves in maps''. Appropriately this is the tag-line used by the National Library to encourage visitors to take this rare opportunity to lose themselves in the world's greatest maps.
Judith Dahl Taylor is communications and marketing manager at the National Library of Australia. Mapping Our World: Terra Incognita to Australia runs until 10 March 2014. Entry is free but bookings are essential at nla.gov.au. For a comprehensive guide to the exhibition, see canberratimes.com/au/exhibitions.