Opicinus’s Medieval Cartographic Imagination

BOOK: K. Whittington, Body-Worlds: Opicinus de Canistris and the Medieval Cartographic Imagination, Turnhout 2014 (Brepols Publishers), II+212 p., 45 colour ill., € 70,00.

In 1334, an Italian priest named Opicinus de Canistris fell ill and experienced a divine vision of continents and oceans transformed into human figures, a vision which inspired numerous drawings. While they relate closely to contemporary maps and seacharts, religious iconography, medical illustration, and cosmological diagrams, Opicinus’s drawings cannot be assimilated to any of these categories. In their beautiful strangeness they complicate many of our assumptions about medieval visual culture, and spark lines of inquiry into the interplay of religion and science, the practice of experimentation, the operations of allegory in the fourteenth century, and ultimately into the status of representation itself.

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