Visualising Longitude

Half marathon notice

Visitor notice: On Sunday 4 March Cutty Sark and the museum car park will be closed for the Vitality Big Half Marathon. All other museums will be open as normal and DLR and rail links will be running. Find out about road closures

If you’ve been to Ships, Clocks and Stars already you’ll have quickly noted that the story of longitude isn’t just about scientific instruments. It’s also about lots of wonderful painted portraits, about graphic satires, about intricate maps and charts, and is prime for interpretation using audio-visuals. If you’ve not been yet you’re in for a treat when you visit!

To help you get your eye in with all this complex and important visual material, a special event at the National Maritime Museum on Thursday 4th September will delve into ‘The Art of Longitude - the Famous Quest from Print to Film.’ Dr Katy Barrett, a regular contributor to this blog, and a Curator of Art at the NMM, will look at why longitude was so useful as a satirical visual tool in the eighteenth century. Dr Victoria Carolan from the University of Greenwich will consider why longitude and navigation continue to be so appealing to modern film audiences.

Katy will start from Hogarth’s infamous inclusion of a ‘longitude lunatic’ in his image of Bedlam in A Rake’s Progress, to ask why this reference was useful for Hogarth. The hack engravers sent to copy his paintings from memory (mis)remembered his satire in interesting ways. Contemporaries and subsequent satirists picked up his ideas in graphic and literary satires that used longitude and latitude lines to mark the boundaries between political parties, or used scientific instruments to advise men and women how to ‘keep within compass’ in society.

Following on from Katy's observations on how the issue of navigation is used as a metaphor in terms of society, Victoria will begin by looking at magic lanterns, the precursor to cinema and show how maritime imagery is used as a moral compass.

Do you want a pilot (3)Slides 3 (3)Images courtesy of Nicholas Hiley

Although for most of the twentieth century the story of Harrison and longitude was not high in public consciousness nevertheless maritime subjects were prolific on film from the very beginning: especially used in matters of national identity and in the discussion of class.  The talk goes through the way that the maritime world was presented on screen and discusses how the Channel 4 film Longitude fits in to this wider picture.