An Illuminating Story

The art of cartography has been around for centuries. Over the years it has seen many changes and improvements, namely in the science and aesthetics of accurately reproducing terrain. In 1925, a ground breaking approach to map making emerged. It was the Schulkarte der Schweiz (School map of Switzerland), produced by Swiss cartographer Eduard Imhof. He introduced a new way of rendering landforms which enhanced the three-dimensionality of maps. Imhof’s manual style of drawing topography was unique, making complex information easier to understand. And colour played an important role in his highly-regarded technique.

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Imhof’s superb relief shading and colour sensitivities added a more realistic sense of illumination to maps. He fine-tuned the use of hypsometric tinting (the use of coloured contour lines to suggest height) and introduced a colouring system that depicts change in elevation. In short, increases in elevation progress from a light grey-blue or light grey-green to light olive to brownish-red to yellow tones, culminating in white. To emphasize dimension, shades of deep blue and purple help to depict shadows and valleys.

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Imhof was appointed the first Swiss Professor of Cartography in 1925 and devoted the rest of his life to the art of map making. He founded the Cartographic Institute in Zurich and won numerous accolades and awards during his lifetime. Modern day cartographer Dr. Bernhard Jenny said, “He helped popularize the Swiss style of mapping, where the main goal is to portray the third dimension in an easily accessible way—not just with lines, but also color to add the sense of illumination using an artificial light source.”

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Freudian Gilt