Map Analysis - Carte de la partie de la Virginie...
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A favorite map that I have on my office wall has the very precise title Carte de la partie de la Virginie ou l’armée combinée de France & des États-Unis de l’Amérique a fait prisonnière l’Armée anglaise commandée par Lord Cornwallis le 19 octobre. 1781, avec le plan de l’attaque d’York-town & de Glocester. Levée et dessinée sur les lieux par ordre des officiers genx. de l’Armée française & américaine available from the Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division here.
This map has an incredible composition of contrast, line, and form that can be seen if we do a Kandinsky-type abstraction of the map elements.
At first glance you probably went directly to the title cartouche and established the theme of the map. This is accomplished by sharply contrasting the cartouche to other objects on the map. It is a strong square and everywhere else is flowing curves. Its different contrast draws attention. It has a strong border, the border for land is softer. It is placed in an otherwise empty space.
Next, you glance over the map. Notice the focal point to which your eye is drawn. All the radiating rhumb lines draw your attention to the compass rose, from which you read Chesapeake Bay. The cartographer has now registered the map’s primary location. Notice how the curving line of Chesapeake Bay is vibrant and has inherent action. Compare this to the straight line label Partie Du Maryland. Both are the same weight, but Chesapeake Bay is attention grabbing because of its contrast and line. Partie Du Maryland is straight and static and doesn’t draw too much attention to itself, but denotes itself as an equal topographic feature to the bay. Now that the theme and location are firmly established to the reader, the cartographer expands on the map’s theme.
The next section your eye fixes on is the French navy. Map propaganda is very apparent here. The cartographer wants to show the strength of the French naval blockade and the futility of the English fleet to try to break it. Ships are tightly spaced in a concave line facing the English fleet, as if it would swallow any ship that tries to pass. Conversely, the English fleet line is spread apart and widely spaced, an appearance of weakness and disarray.
Now the eye is drawn back to the compass rose and continues to the left to see what is there. Scanning the landmass, the eye fixes on the most developed urban location, which also has ships around it. It is further offset by a contrasting cluster of red denoting an urban area. As if to emphasize the location even more, a rhumb line points directly at the location.
The map keeps the reader’s eye within the map by not letting any rhumb line lead off from the compass rose without some feature stopping or pausing before touching the border. Notice also that labels do not unnecessarily draw attention away from the theme of the map by being too large or too bold. They are in perfect balance to clearly label without distraction.
Overall, this map shows excellent balance with colors and map fillers. There is no empty space that would draw attention from mapped objects by having a strong contrast for eye relief. Like a well composed painting, it keeps the reader interested with small details, but never loses its main theme. It is also filled with action and movement by using curved and diagonal lines.
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