Read here about atlas, both the idea of an atlas as a compendium of images of reference, and about the Greek mythological figure Atlas. Both are helpful in the study of scale.

Definition By Daston And Galison

Atlases are the repositories of images of record for the observational sciences. The name “atlas” derives from Gerardus Mercator’s world map, Atlas sive cosmographicae meditations de fabrica mvndi et fabricate figvra (Atlas, or Cosmographical Meditations on the Fabric of the World, 1595) (the title was an allusion to the titan Atlas of Greek mythology, who bore the world on his shoulders). By the late 18th century, the term had spread from geography to astronomy and anatomy (“maps” of the heavens or the human body), and, by the mid-19th century, “atlases” had proliferated throughout the empirical sciences. Because of the oversize format of these works, the word “atlas” came in the 18th c. to designate a very large size (34” by 26.5”) or drawing paper. The term was apparently transferred to all illustrated scientific works in the mid-19th c., when figures were printed separately from explanatory texts, in large-format supplements—hence, “atlases,” deriving from their size: for example, text volume in octo, accompanying atlas in folio. Especially for engraved figures, which had to be printed on higher-quality paper, usually bound separately into the back of the book, this two-volume format had the advantages that text and images could be looked at side by side. As text and figures merged into a single, often oversize, volume, “atlas” came to refer to the entire work, and “atlases” described the whole genre of such scientific picture books. We use the term retrospectively to refer to all such works, even those earlier one that may not use the word “atlas” in the title. – Objectivity, p. 23, by Lorraine Daston & Peter Galison, and note.


Mercator named his great collection of maps, Atlas. See .

Links and Citations

Objectivity by Lorraine Daston & Peter Galison.

See also Narcissus.