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Theodor Galle, after Johannes Stradanus
"Sculptura in Aes" [The Workplace of the Copper Engravers]
Plate 19 from Nova reperta [Modern Discoveries]
Antwerp: Joannes Galle, late 16th century
Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs, Print Collection                    

The 17th- and 18th-century maps in this exhibit were printed by copper engraving, a process introduced in Europe in the 16th century. Various specialists associated with the print shop worked to produce a map: the mapmaker, the engraver, the printer, the papermaker, the colorist. As shown (bottom left) in the illustration above, an engraver would create the design in reverse on a copper plate from a tracing made by the mapmaker or from information recorded in an explorer’s journal or a ship’s log. On many of the maps in the exhibit, the engraver is identified in the lower left or right corner by the Latin term “sculpt.” The engraver used copper plates a little smaller than the paper used in printing. Sometimes a large wall map would be engraved in sections on four, six, or more copper plates, and printed on separate sheets of paper, which could be joined to make a larger map.

In the center of the scene, the printer’s helpers heat the engraved copper plate, cover it with ink, and then wipe it down so that the ink will adhere to the engraved lines. Using the printing press to apply great pressure, the printer presses the design onto slightly dampened paper. Newly printed maps and prints, as on the back wall in the illustration, are hung up to dry. Finally, a colorist hand-decorates a map, either fully coloring or outlining the boundaries and shorelines.

Since map dealers and printers were usually licensed separately, a dealer would sell the maps from his own shop, either separately or bound together in an atlas. Maps and atlases were also sold at publishers’ book and map fairs across Europe. This basic process of map and atlas production and distribution continues to this day around the world, although computer graphics have replaced copper engraving.

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EPO, 1998