World map, Oronce Fine, 1514

Starting in the 17th century, allegorical maps became a way of talking about relationships, from the Castle of Cuckoldry to the Abyss of Despair.

Relationships can be hard to navigate, so French people in the mid-17th century found a way to cope: They mapped them.

“Cartes galantes,” or “gallant maps,” are a type of allegorical mapping. Authors of allegorical maps use commonly known topographic elements to represent feelings and ideas. Oceans and land masses are given witty labels such as “Sea of Enmity,” or “Castle in the Air,” an expression that refers to an idea unlikely to be realized.

The trend emerged in 16th-century Europe, but it was not until the mid-17th century in France that these cartes galantes really became the rage.

“As far as I know, there were no equivalent movements in other countries at the time, even if similar maps will eventually get published in other countries, especially in England in the XVIIIth century.” Daniel Maher, author of various writings dissecting these maps, told CityLab in an email.

The most famous example of the genre is Mademoiselle de Scudéry’s Carte de Tendre—roughly translated as Map of Tenderness—which was published in 1654 in her novel Clélie and was engraved by Francois Chauveau.

Scudéry maps out the imaginary country of Tendre, which is scattered with small towns one can stop through on the way to love—or despair. The journey starts at the bottom of the map. Carte de Tendre, engraving by Francois Chauveau, 1654. Translation by CityLab. (Bibliotheque Nationale de France, Paris)

The Carte de Tendre represents the imaginary country of Tenderness, depicted as a territory expanding beyond the map’s boundaries all the way up to the “Mer Dangereuse” (the“Dangerous Sea”) into the “Terres Inconnues”(“Uncharted Territories”). In the novel, the main character Clélie drafts the Carte de Tendre to map out how one can become a lover. The meaning of tendre is multi-dimensional, but behind it is a will to redefine relationships between the sexes outside of marriage, according to the writings of Sorbonne University professor of French literature Delphine Denis. This was a novel idea at the time, and coming from a woman, it was revolutionary.

After troubled times of civil unrest, mid-17th century France was the era of the “salons,” where intellectuals would gather to talk and exchange ideas. Mademoiselle de Scudéry had her own, and the map was created during a gathering. From these privileged spaces emerged a literary movement called the “Préciosité,” whose followers endeavored to embody refinement and elegant taste, and expressed themselves in an almost overwhelmingly eloquent manner. In “précieux” language, an armchair would become the “means of the conversation,” and the moon the “torch of the night.” The movement had its share of detractors, among them famous playwright Molière, who dedicated a whole satire to it, called “Les Précieuses Ridicules” (“The Ridiculous Précieuses”).

The traveler to the country of Tenderness is not presented with one specific itinerary, but rather a range of possibilities. In what some might consider the best-case scenario, these wanderers end up in the larger cities with positive names, like “Tendre sur Estime” (“Tenderness upon Esteem,” Esteem being one of the rivers of this imaginary country), or “Tendre sur Reconnaissance” (“Tenderness upon Gratefulness,” another river of the imaginary landscape.) However, the traveler can get lost and drift towards the “Lake of Indifference” or the “Sea of Enmity” instead. All can quickly turn sour by passing through the small towns of “Negligence” or “Complacency,” or bumping into the rocks of “Pride.”

“The cartes galantes fit in the lineage of the salon,” Maher wrote to CityLab. “Attendees would intervene playfully, while trying to tackle deeper philosophical reflections. The cartes galantes enabled the participants to show their wit by reacting to the allegorical content of the maps.” They conveyed the author’s ideas of courtship and relationships at a time more people were starting to talk openly about the topic.

The map adopts a moralizing tone that Scudéry’s did not have. Carte du Royaume de Coquetterie, 1654-58. Translation by CityLab. (Bibliotheque National de France, Paris.)

Around the same time, cleric François Hédelin, a religious leader known as the Abbé d’Aubignac, published a map that is the moral opposite of Scudéry’s. Sanctimonious in tone, the Carte du Royaume de Coquetterie (“Map of the Kingdom of Coquetry, or Flirtation”) depicts said kingdom as an isolated island that can be reached only by boat in stormy weather. Contrary to Scudéry’s map, the traveler to the Kingdom does not have many options: The itinerary through the island is pretty settled, and it is not a happy one. The adventurer’s only way out is another boat trip to the “Chappelle du St Retour” (“Chapel of the Holy Return”), under the watch of “Capitaine Repentir” (“Captain Repentance”).

The map mocks the literary movement of the “Préciosité”. Carte de l’Empire des Précieuses, 1650. Translation by CityLab. (Bibliotheque Nationale de France, Paris)

In the 1660s, the Carte de l’Empire des Précieuses (“Map of the Précieuses Empire”) follows this trend of the carte galante while also critiquing the movement. The map is anonymous, and the territory of “Précieuses” touches the regions of “Coquetry,” “Inauthenticity” and “Smooth Talking,” mocking the mannerism of the followers.

“I” stands for Island, as it was abbreviated in the original. Marriage is depicted as an archipelago. Translation by CityLab. Carte de l’Isle du Mariage, 1754. (Bibliotheque Nationale de France, Paris)

The Carte de l’Isle du Mariage (“Map of the Island of marriage”) was published about a century later, in 1754. Inspired by the written works of Eustache Le Noble, the author of the map is unknown, but reads as the “philosophe garçon,” or “boy philosopher.” The author depicts marriage and its possible pitfalls as an archipelago of dangerous islands located in the middle of the “Ocean mélancolique ou Grande Mer du mariage” (“Melancolic Ocean, also called the Large Sea of Marriage”). The main island of the archipelago is home to the Castle of Cuckoldry, or “Chateau du Cocuage.” The traveler is likely to come to these delightful places via the “River of Willingness” that flows through the “Kingdom of Liberty.”

Plan de la Lune de Miel, Bertall, 1845. Translation by CityLab. (Bibliotheque Nationale de France, Paris)

The public taste for the cartes galantes died in the middle of the 19th century, but the Précieuses influenced later creators such as Bertall, author of the Plan de la Lune de Miel, or “Map of the Honeymoon.” It was published in a novel written by Honoré de Balzac in 1845. Bertall makes an ironic reference to Mademoiselle de Scudéry at the bottom of his work, writing that it was found in her personal belongings after her death—even though the map was, in reality, an original work. Its central element is a giant bed, advocating for Balzac’s philosophy that “the bed is the whole of marriage,” which Bertall expressed by coming up with crude geographical puns. The sea is called “l’Amer,” as “mer” means “sea” in French, and “amer” means bitterness. On the left-hand side is the “Partie Inexflorée”—a mix between “inexplorée,” meaning “unexplored,” and “deflorée,” relating to the loss of one’s virginity. In other words, “Area not yet deflowered;” slightly less eloquent than Scudéry.

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