A devotional map of Saint Barbara's island
I’ve never seen a map quite like this before. It’s on a small vellum leaf (13.5 x 8.5 cms) which has been pierced with great intricacy to create a lace-like effect; the hand is eighteenth-century and southern European, possibly Spanish. Saint Barbara watches over her island: a fanciful depiction of the coastline forms a cartouche around her name. As the leaf is now separated from the rest of the book it is difficult to say much more with certainty, but it could well have formed the frontispiece of a little prayer book, perhaps belonging to someone with the given name Barbara, who would have celebrated her name day on the saint’s feast day. It seems a little delicate to have belonged to an artilleryman or engineer - Barbara is the patron saint of anyone who works with explosives - but that is just a guess. It seems unlikely to me that it formed part of a complete isolaria or island book - though it’s a lovely thought. Here’s the map: Santa Barbara is the smallest and most southerly of the Channel Islands, the archipelago off the Californian coast, just west of Los Angeles. It was named in 1602 by the Spanish explorer Sebastian Vizcaino, who reached the island on the saint’s feast day, December 4th. The map bears little relation to the actual coastline of Santa Barbara as we know it today, but that isn’t at all unreasonable. It is a tiny island, and if our eighteenth-century artist had access to a map of the region at all, Santa Barbara is unlikely to have been depicted with any degree of accuracy. I do get a sense that the artist had seen other maps or charts with small islands on them - the style is quite distinctive. And perhaps there was a genuine connection between the family that commissioned the work and the sea. Again, one can only speculate. This is a map which raises more questions than it answers.