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[Detail] Discovery of the Mississippi: By Ferdinand De Soto

Ornamentation and Maps as Art

Historic maps were often ornamented with elaborate borders, as well as drawings that conveyed additional information about the subject of the map. Coats of arms were sometimes included, as were drawings of what the map-maker guessed might be found in areas about which little was known. Above is a detail from a 1562 map of America by Diego Gutierrez. Study the map in detail, and read the essay about the map written by Dr. John R. Hebert, chief of the Library of Congress Geography and Map Division.

  • Find the three coats of arms mentioned in the essay on the map. Why do you think the cartographer chose to show these coats of arms rather than simply using the country names? How, if at all, do the coats of arms affect your response to the map? How might they have affected the response from a viewer of the map in the 16th century?
  • Find several drawings in the oceans or on land. To what degree do these pictures accurately represent things found on land and sea? How, if at all, do these pictures affect your response to the map? How might they have affected the response from a viewer of the map in the 16th century?
  • Identify other ways in which the map was ornamented or decorated. How do these techniques add to or distract from the map’s appearance? The way in which it conveys information?
  • Is this map a work of art? Provide a definition of the term art and explain why the map does or does not fall under your definition.