De Hooghe’s Map, Babylon/Paradise/Desert as centre of Biblical lands
Romeyn De Hooghe (Amsterdam 1654 – Haarlem 1708) was a Dutch engraver and painter. His works are quite prolific, and he is regarded as one of the best Dutch Baroque artists.
One of his posthumous maps, The Biblical Lands, is interesting. The Orbis of De Hooghe is centred on Babylon, long considered as a physical centre of our Planet. Just to the south-east of the city we can locate Paradise, Eden, on the map. In this regard there is an important shift from the mediaeval T-in-O maps: there Paradise is on the extreme north (or, for maedieval mappae mundi, being oriented to the East, Paradise is located to the extreme north.) Geographical knowledge by the time of De Hooghe did prove and show that the Planet can be circumnavigated and that it is a sphere after all. So for De Hooghe it is more logical to place the Paradise in the heart of the emerged lands, near Babylon, supposedly the connection bewteen the three Parts of the World and a central city to all civilisations.
The map’s titles read: ORBIS per Creationem institutus, per Diluvium destitutus, per Legem constitutus, per Christum restitutus (The Earth, instituted by the Creation, destituted by the Deluge, constituted by the Law and restituted by Christ).
Another important point: the physical centre is around Babylon… But the “spiritual” one is the Tetragrammaton on the extreme north of the map: the Four Letters of the Divine Name (The LORD) in a triangle (The LORD of the Old Testament understood as the Trinity of the New Testament). The LORD has no more earthly dwelling, but “above” all things and all lands… Can De Hooghe’s message mean that no earthly centre is “reliable”? After all the physical centre is a combination of antitheses: Babylon, supposedly dwelling to “bad” earthy power is just adjacent to Paradise. Is not again a universal story of centrality where “bad” and “good” powers always go together.
Another aspect of the map is that the exact physical centre is on the Syrian desert, a vacuum in the heart of the map. I do not have many information on this map-making process, yet it does remind me of Roland Barthes’ hypothesis of the “empty focal point for the image that the community develops of the centre.” An empty “shapeless” space but necessary for the organisation of all what goes and comes and moves around it. This “movement” of history can be seen nowadays with all troubles and changes the Syrian desert is undergoing…
This “empty heart” of the Near East was a “motor of history” in a brilliant academic work: the doctoral thesis of Vincent Capdepuy, defended in Paris, 2010. Capdepuy analyses the “movements around” the Syrian Desert, being an empty heart of the Mediterranean-to-Mesopotamia ensemble, empty but crucial and pivotal in history.
Is De Hooghe’s map around an “empty focal point”? After all, desolation of Babylon, “emptying” Babylon, is a focal point in Biblical readings of history!
For further reading please go to the site of Netherland’s Institue for Art History, URL: http://explore.rkd.nl/en/explore/artists/record?query=de+hooghe&start=0
The beautiful lecture of Roland Barthes, Semiology and Urbanism, in which he speaks about the “empty forcal point” can be found and read on this URL: http://www.columbia.edu/itc/architecture/ockman/pdfs/dossier_4/barthes_2.pdf
You can find more information about the doctoral thesis of Vincent Capdepuy on the following two links:
UMR Géographie-Cités, URL: http://www.parisgeo.cnrs.fr/spip.php?article71
Theses.fr, the French doctoral thesis database, URL: http://www.theses.fr/2010PA070076
Image Credit: The National Library of Israel, “Holy Land Maps”, URL: http://jnul.huji.ac.il/dl/maps/pal/html/eng/pal002368616.htm