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Astronomical Images : Chorography of Norwich

William Cuningham

Astronomical Images

<p style='text-align: justify;'>In accordance with his original working title for the volume, <i>The Geographicall Glasse</i>, Cuningham demonstrated Ptolemaic principles of calculating longitude and latitude, and explained how map-makers learn simple triangulation. These latter subjects he discussed in relation to Norwich, and his perspective plan, or prospect, constituted a case-study in chorography and surveying. Prominent parts of Norwich's landscape and its buildings can be identified with a key on the plan's verso. One of the small figures at the bottom and centre of the Norwich image holds a pair of compasses. The table next to him, engraved with John Day's initials, includes a polar compass and a sundial. Raymond Frostick identifies the woodcutter as John Bettes the elder, on the basis of inscribed initials in the title scroll (<i>I.B. f[ecit]</i>). The plan is the last in a series of three images through which Cuningham explores Ptolemy's definitions of the distinctions between cosmography, geography and chorography. Whilst cosmography situated the Earth in relation to the five heavenly circles, and geography indicated its prominent features (such as mountains and seas), chorography represented 'every particuler thing, in that parte [of the Earth] conteined', including ports, rivers, cities, buildings, and walls. Norwich's city walls, its river and its individual buildings can all be seen in the prospect plan. The accompanying text rehearses Ptolemy's famous analogy between portrait painting and the difference between geography and chorography: geography is likened to the painting of a man's entire head, whereas chorography reproduces only a single part, such as an eye or an ear. Whereas Peter Apian's earlier pictorial representations of these similes had been highly literal (see the <i>Cosmographia</i>, Antwerp, 1550, f. 2r), Cuningham instead provides a masterpiece of regional chorography. His prospect of Norwich proves Ptolemy's assertion that chorography is the domain of the skilled landscape artist, and that it captures the 'quality' of a place rather than the precise proportions of the area. The plan was often copied and reproduced, becoming the defining image of Norwich into the seventeenth century. Most notably, it was copied in Georg Braun and Franz Hogenberg's <i>Civitates orbis terrarum</i>, volume 3 (Cologne, 1581).</p>

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