Page of text with map and catchword.
The New York Public Library possesses one of the largest and finest collections of medieval and Renaissance illuminated manuscripts in North America, yet its manuscript holdings are scarcely known to scholars, much less to a wide public audience. Medieval and Renaissance illuminated manuscripts are vehicles of the collective memory of western European culture, and provide a material connection between the scribes, illuminators, and patrons who produced these works and the audiences who view them today. The New York Public Library comprises simultaneously a set of scholarly research collections and a network of community libraries, and its intellectual and cultural range is both global and local, while singularly attuned to New York City. That combination lends to the Library an extraordinary richness. It is special also in being historically a privately managed, nonprofit corporation with a public mission, operating with both private and public financing in a century-old, still evolving private-public partnership. Last year, over 16 million New Yorkers visited the library, and over 25 million used its website. The NYPL Digital Gallery provides free and open access to over 640,000 images digitized from the The New York Public Library's vast collections, including not just photographs but illuminated manuscripts, historical maps, vintage posters, rare prints and more. Digital projects and partnerships at NYPL are managed by the Digital Experience Group, a 21-person team of programmers, designers and producers dedicated to expanding and enhancing all points of computer and Web-mediated interaction with the library's collections, services and staff.
During the Medieval period, European maps were dominated by religious views. All maps were, of course, drawn and illuminated by hand, which made the distribution of maps extremely limited. Medieval geography divided the world into three schematic parts: Asia, Europe, and Africa. Asia was depicted on top as the birthplace of Christ and the original site of the Garden of Eden. A T-O map (orbis terrarum, orb or circle of the lands; with the letter T inside an O), also known as an Isidoran map, is a type of early world map that represents the physical world as first described by the 7th-century scholar Isidore of Seville in his De Natura Rerum and later his Etymologiae. In this map format, Jerusalem was depicted at the center and east was oriented toward the map top. The design had great religious significance, with the “T” representing the central Christian symbol of the cross and placing Jerusalem at the center of the world. The “T” also separated the continents of the known world—Asia, Europe, and Africa—and the “O” that enclosed the entire image, represented the medieval idea of the world surrounded by water.