12 Illustrative Portraits of Political Geography in Europe

in Art + Design


The human figure depiction of the maps of European countries started in 1869 with an aim of creating such a vital study of geography that provoke laughter and not boring for young people. It was made into an atlas by the company Hodder and Stoughton, London published with the title “Geographical Fun: Being Humorous Outlines of Various Countries.

The author of the map, William Harvey, introduces these 12 maps under the pseudonym “Aleph“. The portrait illustration that was produced came with a short poem of four verses about each country, which were: England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, France, Spain and Portugal, Italy, Prussia, Germany, Holland and Belgium, Denmark and Russia. The idea behind the maps was taken from sketches drawn by Lillian Lancaster, a 15-year old girl born in 1852 in London and who was trying to amuse her sick brother confined to bed.

Here’s an enjoyable way to demonstrate the map and recognize each country. Let’s pause for a moment of curiosity.


ENGLAND as Queen Victoria

VERSE: Beautiful England, – on her Island throne, – Grandly she rules, – with half the world her own; From her vast empire the sun ne’er departs; She reigns a Queen – Victoria, Queen of Hearts.


SCOTLAND as a gallant piper

VERSE: A gallant piper, struggling through the bogs. His wind bag broken, wearing his clay clogs: Yet, strong of heart, a fitting emblem makes. For Scotland – land of heroes and of cakes.


WALES as Owen Glendowr

VERSE: Geography bewitch’d – Owen Glendowr, In Bardic grandeur, looks from shore to shore, And sings King Arthur’s long, long pedigree, And cheese and leeks, and knights of high degree.


IRELAND as a peasant woman

VERSE: And what shall typify the Emerald Isle? A Peasant, happy in her baby’s smile? No fortune her’s, – though rich in native grace, – Herrings, potatoes, and a joyous face.


FRANCE a hook-nosed lady

VERSE: A hook-nosed lady represents fair France, Empress of cooks, of fashions, and the dance. Her flatt’ring glass declares that vict’ry, power. Beauty, wealth, arts, are her imperial dower.


SPAIN AND PORTUGAL in an ‘eternal’ union

VERSE: These long divided nations soon may be, By Prims’ grace, joined in lasting amity. And ladies fair – if King Fernando rules, Grow grapes in peace, and fatten their pet mules.


ITALY as a modern day chieftain

VERSE: Thou model chieftain – born in modern days – Well may thy gallant acts claim classic praise. Uncompromising friend of liberty! Thy Photograph ennobles Italy!


PRUSSIA as King Friedrich Wilhelm and Chancellor Bismarck

VERSE: His Majesty of Prussia – grim and old – Sadowa’s King – by needle guns made bold; With Bismark of the royal conscience, keeper, In dreams political none wiser – deeper.


GERMANY as a dancing lady

VERSE: Lo! studios Germany, in her delight, At coming glories, shewn by second sight, And on her visioned future proudly glancing, Her joy expresses by a lady dancing.


HOLLAND AND BELGIUM as a pair of ladies

VERSE: Dame Holland, trick’d out in her gala clothes, And Master Belgium, with a punchy nose; Seem on the map to represent a land, By patriot worth, and perfect art made grand.


DENMARK as a female ice skater

VERSE: For Shakespeare’s Prince, and the Princess of Wales, To England dear. Her royal spirit quails; From skating faint, she rests upon the snow; Shrinking from unclean beasts that grin below.


RUSSIA as a bear

VERSE: Peter, and Catherine, and Alexander, Mad Paul, and Nicolas, poor shadows wander Out in the cold; while Emperor A. the Second In Eagles, Priests, and Bears supreme is reckoned.

Further Readings and Resources

1. About Humorous Map Maker Lilian Lancaster
2. Images via The Map House of London

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