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Cartographica Helvetica


Theme: Schöpfkarte – map of the city-state of Bern (1578)

Cartographica Helvetica 60 (2020)


Most historic maps result from collaborative efforts rather than individual authorship. And they mirror the topographic and historical situation of their making. Containing images and words, they should be considered as multimedia sources which embrace their own stories. Under these aspects, the present thematic issue of Cartographica Helvetica deals with Bern's first large topographic map, the Schöpfkarte. Thomas Schöpf's 500th anniversary is an occasion to look into his eventful life as an official physician of the town and to critically assess the map published under his name and entitled Inclitæ Bernatvm vrbis, cvm omni ditionis svæ agro et provinciis delineatio chorographica ('Chorographic outline of the famous city of Bern including all territories under its rule and its districts').

The map was accompanied by a detailed text handed down in several manuscripts. Sets of cartographic representations and separate texts are of particular interest for historical cartographers, but they were not exceptional in the early modern period. The text written in Latin – called 'chorography' further on – has not been accessible until lately.

This issue reveals important discoveries in archives and libraries. First of all, the inventory of copies of the Schöpfkarte has been updated. Furthermore, new historical and cartographic insights enable us to make a precise difference between the 1578 and the 1672 printings. The number of copies of the hand-written chorography has doubled up to eight, and more than fifteen newly discovered short versions may be added. New evidence indicates that these copies contained top-secret information leading to the seat of power in ancient Bern.

The first in-depth study of Schöpf's biography shows that the map as well as the chorography were authored mainly by his entourage. Somehow this seems like a thriller come true, but it does lead to a detailed view of how the map was made. Furthermore, the complex relationship between the map and the chorography was investigated in detail. On the one hand, the linguistic analysis shows the way verbal landscape description works, and on the other hand, cartographic research based on types of settlements, individual buildings, bridges and bodies of water substantiates the close affinity of the map and the text at the time of their creation. An accuracy analysis proves the high quality of the map, which was produced without any relevant model or triangulation.

A number of Bernese and Swiss maps from the 16th to the 18th centuries show traces of the Schöpfkarte. Moreover, the map and the chorography are even today still relevant for studying Bernese toponyms since they contain a trove of information on place names originating from the second half of the 16th century. The chorography can at least in parts be considered as a toponymic reference work. An annotated digital edition of both the map and the chorography remains to be desired.

Translation by Christine Studer

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