The New Literalism? On Mapping Spaces of the Imagination

The Antefix

Today’s web brims with images and infographics, diagrams and charts. Do these expand our imaginative capacity? Or are we trading in the literary for the literal?

Ishmael was right. In the past, true places – the spaces of the imagination – were not put down on maps. They may have been painted as architectural fantasies or exaggerations, like Piranesi’s, or symbolised in elaborate diagrams like Botticelli’s Mappa dell’Inferno, which illustrated a late fifteenth-century edition of the Divine Comedy. But the aim of these allegorical works was not to demystify. Far from drawing edges, they created new unknowns, imaginative avenues to be explored at leisure. What lay inside the Ideal City? What strange pleasures are felt in The Garden of Earthly Delights? When The Death of Ophelia was shown at the Royal Academy in 1852, a critic from the Times wondered why Millais had floated Ophelia in a “weedy ditch.”…

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