When a 17th-century chart of the world found lodged in an Aberdeen chimney arrived at the National Library of Scotland, it looked more like a mummy than a map. It was believed to be jammed up the chimney to protect against a draft, and over the years had nearly flaked away, with bits consumed or removed by vermin and other pests. When it was discovered during home renovations, the grimy bundle barely evaded the trash. Conservators received it in a plastic bag crammed unceremoniously inside a cardboard whisky box. After six months of careful attention, it’s now cleaned and reassembled, its centuries-old cartography returned to visibility.

Johannes Vermeer, “The Art of Painting” (1666-68), oil on canvas, which includes a map similar to the one conserved by the National Library of Scotland (via Kunsthistorisches Museum/Wikimedia)

The rare eight-section map appears to date to 1690, likely based on the work of 17th-century Dutch engraver Gerard Valck, and published by George Wildey in London. Its oceans are animated by sea battles, with cities illustrated on its corners, while the continents themselves have historic details, such as the brutal slavery at the Spanish mines in South America. According to the Scotsman’s report, the colossal map, measuring seven feet wide by five feet tall, was probably a “symbol of power” for whomever displayed it. The Library points out that it’s quite similar to a large map seen presiding over Johannes Vermeer’s “The Art of Painting” (1666–68).

“It would have been very easy for this map to end up at the bottom of a skip but thankfully it can now take its place among the magnificent maps held within our collection,” stated National Librarian John Scally in last month’s release. In the videos above and below, you can view the step-by-step conservation process, which is further explored in the winter 2016 issue of the Library’s Discover magazine, available in an online PDF. Much like the 13th-century knight’s tomb at the Cloisters in New York that was once used as a bridge, or the 1500 BCE bronze dagger that was identified while serving as a doorstop, the antique map is one of those remarkable objects uncovered in the most unexpected of places.

Read more about the conservation of the “chimney map” at the National Library of Scotland

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Allison Meier

Allison C. Meier is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Oklahoma, she has been covering visual culture and overlooked history for print...