Connected Central European Worlds, 1500-1700

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Mapping Central Europe in Contemporary Cartography

Robyn Dora Radway, Central European University

This talk argues that early modern hand-colored cartographic prints reveal the biases and limits of geographic literacy attained by sixteenth- and seventeenth-century consumers of printed atlases. Works like Abraham Ortleius’s Theatrum Orbis Terrarum and Gerrit van Schagen’s Atlas minor left printers’ workshops as a series of uncolored projections surrounded by a textual apparatus. Importantly, these originals were devoid of instructions for adding color and their use of boundary lines was notoriously inaccurate and inconsistent. Consumers commissioned illuminators (Briefmaler) to decorate their atlases, thereby raising their aesthetic and monetary value. While some copies were painted by knowledgeable professionals connected to printing workshops who followed the high standards established by editors and geographers producing the works, others colored according to their own often limited understanding of political geography. Taking several examples of Europe, Germania, and its neighboring polities, I show how the political geography of atlas consumers was highly subjective, relational, and imbedded in ongoing discourses about legitimacy, legal status, and notions of belonging. How did early modern illuminators understand central Europe and its boundaries? Comparing different surviving copies of these atlases reveals that a remarkable range of opinions circulated simultaneously.


Robyn Dora Radway is a historian of Habsburg central Europe and its imperial entanglements across internal and external borders (1450–1800). She specializes in the study of administrative institutions, scribal practices, book cultures, military conflicts, and material culture. She has published articles and chapters on costume books, arms and armour, dress and identity, Habsburg-Ottoman diplomacy, Ottoman Hungary, and the circulation of information on city streets and at imperial courts. Radway has also worked in several international and local museums. Her forthcoming book, Portraits of Empires: Habsburg Albums from the German House in Ottoman Constantinople (2023, Indiana University Press) examines what it meant to be a “Habsburg subject” in the early modern period by exploring how a displaced group of men from across Habsburg-ruled territories interacted with one another through their production of a unique set of texts and images. The book brings archival sources together with over 50 manuscripts containing painted images, decorated papers, and friendship albums (alba amicorum) from the Habsburg ambassador’s residence in Constantinople.