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Cartographica Helvetica


Claudius Sieber-Lehmann:

Albrecht von Bonstetten's geographical representation of Switzerland of 1479

Cartographica Helvetica 16 (1997) 39–46


The oldest known general map of Switzerland was compiled between 1495 and 1497 by Konrad Türst. It appeared as an appendix to his Latin and German notes De situ Confoederatorum descriptio and Beschribung gemeiner Eydgnosschaft. It is based on the grid described by Ptolemy.

Scarcely known is the fact that the history of Swiss cartography actually begins with a graphic representation of the country, drawn twenty years earlier by the Dean of Einsiedeln, Albrecht von Bonstetten. It appeared in Superioris Germanie Confoederationis descriptio, the first geographical description of Switzerland. These four drawings are reproduced here in colours for the very first time. Combining geographical knowledge with traditional and religious views, Bonstetten tried to establish the position of Switzerland.

The first drawing shows the firmament with Atlas, whose heart symbolizes the center of the world and Switzerland. The second drawing is a traditional medieval world map, a so-called T-O map showing the three continents Asia, Africa and Europe with Jerusalem as the centre of Christendom. The third drawing uses the same structure to show Europe, consisting of Gallia, Alamania and Italia. In its centre, the mountain ridges of the Alps and the rivers Limmat and Rhine encircle Switzerland. The last drawing is visually and in its structure a repetition of the first drawing: the Rigi (Regina montium), the so-called 'queen of the mountains', represents the centre – similar to the heart of Atlas – surrounded by the eight states of the country.

Bonstetten's rhetorical skilfulness is based on slight shifts; he works – spoken in the language of movies – with superimposing images. The author uses classical motifs like the symbol of Atlas and the T-O maps for artificially creating and – so to speak – constructing a new 'holy land' which is legitimized by traditions and religious concepts. The difficulties in creating a new trerritorial entity required a subtle and explicit writing. Therefore, we are lucky enough to observe the invention of a land in a laboratory situation.

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