Magnificent Maps: Power, Propaganda and Art at The British Library

Maps can be works of art, propaganda and indoctrination. Opening on 30 April 2010, Magnificent Maps: Power, Propaganda and Art offers a rare chance to see an unrivalled collection of cartographic masterpieces on paper, wood, vellum, silver, silk and marble, including atlases, maps, globes and tapestries that were intended for display side-by-side with the world’s greatest paintings and sculptures.

Drawn from the 4½ million maps held in the British Library’s cartographic collections – the greatest map collection in the world – this new exhibition will showcase 100 maps dating from 200AD to the present day, including 80 of the most impressive wall-maps ever created, most of which have never been seen before.

Recreating the settings in which they would have originally been seen – from the palace to the schoolroom, the exhibition reveals how maps express an enormous variety of differing world views, using size and beauty to convey messages of status and power. See:

Peter Barber, Head of Map Collections at the British Library, said:

“Maps are pictorial encyclopaedias that are about far more than just geography. The artistry of maps is seductive and like the teaspoon of sugar that helps the medicine go down, tries to persuade us to swallow a particular political message.

“Unless you have a scale of one-to-one, in effect a map is a lie because you can’t fit everything in. All maps are subjective, what is more important: the Last Judgment or the correct placement of Birmingham?

“Magnificent Maps: Power, Propaganda and Art is a visual extravaganza that will, I hope, intrigue, fascinate and entrance visitors while challenging their assumptions about the very nature and purpose of maps.”

The exhibition coincides with two BBC Four series about maps broadcast this April. Peter Barber was series consultant for Maps: Power, Plunder and Possession and The Beauty of Maps which featured maps held in the British Library. See:

For more information please contact:
Julie Yau, Arts Press Officer, British Library
+44 (0)20 7412 7237 / [email protected]

Notes to editors

Magnificent Maps: Power, Propaganda and Art is open every day from 30 April – 19 September 2010 in the PACCAR Gallery at the British Library. Admission to the exhibition is FREE.

Exhibition opening hours
Monday 09.30-18.00, Tuesday 09.30-20.00, Wednesday-Friday 09.30-18.00, Saturday 09.30-17.00, Sunday and English public holidays 11.00-17.00. All galleries are accessible by wheelchair. Information can be requested from Visitor Services staff on: +44 (0)20 7412 7332.

Supported by the British Library Patrons.

There is a full events programme featuring talks, discussions, film, performance and more. Speakers include Peter Barber, Jerry Brotton, Lisa Jardine, Terry Jones, Marcia Kupfer, Richard Talbert, Ed Parsons (Google Maps), Grayson Perry, Iain Sinclair and David Starkey. For further information see

Exhibition book
The accompanying book, Magnificent Maps: Power, Propaganda and Art by Peter Barber and Tom Harper will be published by British Library Publishing in April 2010, available in hardback at £29.95 (ISBN 978 0 7123 5092 1) and paperback at £17.95 (ISBN 978 0 7123 5093 8) with 176 pages, 311 x 232 mm, 150 colour illustrations. Available from the British Library Shop (tel: +44 (0)20 7412 7735 / email: [email protected]) and online at as well as other bookshops throughout the UK.

Learning programme
The British Library will be offering a range of learning activities to accompany the exhibition, including workshops for primary, secondary and further education students, and guided tours for higher education and adult groups.

The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom and one of the world’s greatest research libraries. It provides world-class information services to the academic, business, research and scientific communities and offers unparalleled access to the world’s largest and most comprehensive research collection. The Library’s collection has developed over 250 years and exceeds 150 million separate items representing every age of written civilisation. It includes: books, journals, manuscripts, maps, stamps, music, patents, photographs, newspapers and sound recordings in all written and spoken languages.

Image: Psalter world map, Westminster, c.1265. 9 cm diameter. Manuscript on vellum. Photo: British Library Board.