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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Exhibit of Old Maps More Than Geography




The next time you're nodding off on the subway, take a long look at the Moscow metro map. It's compact, functional and stripped of all unnecessary detail - the exact opposite of the intricate, verbose maps on exhibit at the Union Gallery on Smolenskaya Ulitsa.


The maps in the exhibit, titled "Russia and the Rest of the World," date from the 16th to the beginning of the 20th century and give insight into the politics and attitudes of their time.


"Before Peter the Great, there were basically no maps of Russia," says Anna Kotlyar, the gallery's main chief critic.


Russia had maps before Peter the Great, but they were more impressionistic than scientific. They showed approximately where different ethnic groups were located, as opposed to showing rivers, roads and other geographical features.


But Europeans who traded in Russia needed accurate maps, and most of the maps in the exhibit were created by foreigners.


A map drawn by Dutchman Gessel Gerrits in 1614 is an excellent illustration of the Western attitudes toward Russia. One corner is dominated by a map of Moscow, and Central Russia is drawn in a fair amount of detail. On the right-hand side, the map drops off abruptly, and Gerrits simply wrote the word "Tartar" to depict all of modern day Siberia.


This map and others from the same atlas, "Theatrum Orbis Terrarum," were used as the basis for most 17th-century maps of Russia.


The two most noticeable maps located at the gallery are not actually part of the exhibit but are on permanent display. One depicts Europe in 1914 but has none of the usual borders and geographical features. Instead, a caricature of the tsar represents Russia, while different animals represent other European countries. The other map shows Russia as a large black bear.


While visitors to the gallery are immediately drawn to these cartoon-style maps, Kotlyar tries to steer them away in the direction of the maps in the exhibit, which are less dramatic but by no means less important.


While the caricature maps explicitly use cartography as a form of political commentary, the maps in the exhibit show people's unconscious attitudes, expressed through their visualization of space.


The exhibit runs until Nov. 20 at the Union Gallery, 6 Smolenskaya Ulitsa. Tel. 241-0255/7136/7036. 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Nearest metro: Smolenskaya.