Beholder of All Ages: The History
of the World in a French Mappemonde

- Stephen Boyd Davis

pages 1 2 3 4 5 6

      If the ontology of time increasingly proposed a continuous, uniform dimension or space, the old typographic tradition could be seen as too dependent on the discrete chunks of the paragraph, the table and the page for its expression. Figurative metaphorical depiction was an even less appealing option, dealing hardly at all in dimensions but in symbolic loci. Yet a ready-made solution was at hand: geography, and its visual representation cartography. It offered visual metaphor, now readily transferrable from space to time. All around lay the desirable visual achievements of cartography in the form of instruments, globes, charts and atlases. Expertise, materials, and production systems already existed within the cartographic profession and associated trades, just waiting to be adapted to the domain of historical time. Once time is considered as spatialised, or at least analogous to space, the epistemological apparatus of global space — geography and its visualisation cartography — are perhaps inevitably called upon to represent it. And if time is routinely spatialised in this manner, then time even in the abstract comes to take on the spatialised character derived from those representations: the ontology is altered.
      Yet cartography potentially yielded two alternative forms of expression. It could on the one hand be conceived as a depiction of territory. To this category belongs the map as a portrait of geographical features — as seen in Martignoni’s Imago Romani Imperii (fig. 3). The author’s explanation for this chart, first rehearsed in the Saggio [49] and then expanded in two parallel works, the Explication [50] and Spiegazione [51], dealing with chronologies of France and England and of Italy and Germany respectively, makes several strong claims for visualisation, including the opportunity to see a large extent of history in summary (voir en abrégé), to interrogate the chart in three different ways (avec un triple moyen d’apprendre les histoires), to take pleasure from its use (qui puisse faire plaisir à l’esprit), and to unburden the memory (soulager la mémoire). As one would expect on looking at the chart, the explanations make repeated calls upon the metaphor of rivers of time, which are used to represent the ideas of the beginning, growth, diminution, end and extent (l’origine, l’accroissement, la diminution, la fin, la grandeur) of kingdoms and regimes. In Martignoni’s Imago, each of these characteristics is depicted, as though each were an aspect of a river snaking through a terrain.
      Alternatively, rather than borrowing cartography’s pictorial aspects, its emphasis on mensuration and its representational codes could be rethought for the purpose of mapping time, as Barbeau did in 1750.


Barbeau de la Bruyère and the dimensions of time and space


      Rosenberg [52] writes persuasively on the significance and influence of Joseph Priestley’s 1765 Chart of Biography [53] and 1769 New Chart of History [54]. Certainly, Priestley in the Chart of Biography seems to have been the first to use a drawn or printed line consistently to represent the lifetime of each individual — a clear shift to a view of time as continuous and susceptible to arithmetic mapping, with no significant figurative element. Time, Priestley argues, has a natural fit with the idea of a line [55]. But a claim can also be made for Barbeau as a pivotal figure in the emergence of modern visualisation. We know that Priestley was influenced by Barbeau’s chart, though he may only have known its pirated English version by Jeffreys, who described his own publication as ‘done from the French with considerable improvements’ [56]. When Priestley first saw Barbeau/Jeffreys’ chart, he objected to the mapping of both time and geography to a single two-dimensional surface (Priestley 1764:8) [57], preferring the linear simplicity of his own Chart of Biography, but a few years later when he created his own New Chart of History, he used one dimension for time and the other for place just as Barbeau had done. He claimed its superiority over Barbeau/Jeffreys’ chart in terms of exactness, use of colour and of scale, choice of the direction for time (lateral rather than vertical), and his selection of historical events for inclusion [58]. Nevertheless, Priestley agreed that ‘the general plan of the French chart is excellent’, and suggested that ‘it is past all dispute that a few minutes’ inspection of that chart will give a person a clearer idea of the rise, progress, extent, revolutions and duration of empires than he could possibly acquire by reading’ [59] — a strong claim for the newfound power of this form of visualisation.
      Barbeau was the son of a timber-merchant, who from the age of five exhibited a prodigious memory. He was described by a contemporary as une bibliothèque vivante (a walking library) [60]. Hérissant’s short obituary claims that as a child Barbeau would hide at the top of the woodpiles in his father’s yard in order to read free of the attentions of his mother, who wanted him to continue in the family business. Fortunately he acquired some education at the college that faced the timber-yard, enabling him to progress to the Collège Mazarin [61]. Throughout his life he was apparently unable to fully develop his talents as a result of working on other authors’ publications to make a living. Deberre repeats a story that Barbeau’s work on the five-volume Bibliothèque Historique de la France, nominally edited only by de Fontette, caused his death from exhaustion [62]. He was described as un savant trop peu connu (a scholar too little known) a state of affairs attributed to sa modestie genereuse (his generous modesty) [63].
      Originally attracted to the Church, Barbeau’s tastes shifted to geography and history in Holland, which he first visited in 1735, spending over 15 years there and apparently admiring the hard-working tradition of the people [64]. From there he brought to Paris several charts that were of use to M. Bouache de l’academie des sciences (Philippe Buache, 1700-1773). He is said to have lived with Buache for about twenty-three years, which would have given him ample opportunities to observe many aspects of cartography [65]. Buache was a member by marriage of the Delisle cartographic dynasty [66], chief hydrographer to the state, premier géographe du roi, and a defender of mapmaking against the twin pressures of cost-cutting and plagiarism. No doubt Barbeau studied both finished maps and the arts of cartographic engravers in his time there. It is claimed that Barbeau was the author of the erudite parts of Buache’s works [67]. Hérissant goes so far as to suggest that Barbeau was the major contributor to several works for which the state-funded Buache was famed (on doit à la mémoire du Savant modeste la justice de déclarer qu’il a eu la plus grande part aux différens Ouvrages qui ont fait la réputation du Savant pensionné) [68].



[49] G.A. Martignoni, Saggio di un‘Opera di Nuova Invenzione Intitolata l’Immagine dell’Imperio Romano, Rome, Rossi, 1717.
[50] G.A. Martignoni, Explication de la Carte Historique de la France et de l’Angleterre, Op. cit.
[51] G.A. Martignoni, Spiegazione della Carta Istorica dell’Italia, e di Una Parte della Germania, Rome, Rossi, 1721.
[52] D. Rosenberg, ‘Joseph Priestley and the Graphic Invention of Modern Time’, Op. cit.
[53] J. Priestley, A Chart of Biography, London, n.p., 1765. British Library General Reference Collection 611.l.19.
[54] J. Priestley, A New Chart of History, London, Johnson, 1769. British Library Cartographic Items Maps *999.(137).
[55] J. Priestley, A Description of a Chart of Biography, Warrington, n.p., 1764, pp. 5-7. British Library General Reference Collection 10604.aa.11.
[56] T. Jeffreys, A Chart of Universal History, etc. (Done from the French with considerable improvements), London, Thomas Jeffreys, 1750. British Library General Reference Collection 9005.i.4. Barbeau did not agree with these improvements, objecting that the colours ‘have been changed in such a way that they mean nothing and have no system’ (on a changé les Couleurs, de façon qu’elles ne désignent plus rien, & qu’il n’y a point de système) and that his name did not appear). Barbeau de la Bruyère, Explication Générale de la Mappemonde Historique, Op. cit. on p. 331 footnote.
[57] J. Priestley, A Description of a Chart of Biography, Op. cit.. p. 8.
[58] J. Priestley, A Description of a New Chart of History, London, Johnson, 1770. British Library General Reference Collection 304.d.27.
[59] J. Priestley, A Description of a Chart of Biography, Op. cit.. pp. 5, 7.
[60] L.T. Hérrisant, Notice Historique sur la Vie et les Ouvrages de M. Barbeau de la Bruyere, Mort en 1781, (adapted from his article for the Mercure de France. Nº 4. 26 Janvier 1782), Paris, 1782, p. 8. John Rylands Library Richard C. Christie Printed Collection 46 d 17 (14).
[61] L.T. Hérrisant, Notice Historique sur la Vie…, Op. cit. p. 2.
[62] E. Deberre, La Vie Littéraire à Dijon au XVIIIme siècle, Paris, Picard, 1902, p. 186.
[63] L. T. Hérissant, Notice Historique sur la vie…, Op. cit., pp. 1, 3.
[64] Ibid., p. 2.
[65] Ibid., p. 2.
[66] M. S. Pedley, The Commerce of Cartography: making and marketing maps in eighteenth century France and England, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 2005, p. 110.
[67] L. P. de Bachaumont, M-F. Pidansat de Mairobert, B-F-J. Mouffle d’Angerville, Mémoires Secrets pour servir à l’histoire de la République des Lettres en France, Volume 20, London, John Adamson, 1783, on p. 48.
[68] L.T. Hérrisant, Notice Historique sur la Vie…, Op. cit., p. 3.