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Mapa Humoristico da Europa em 1953

  • Author: 'Star'
  • Publisher: Ed J R Silva
  • Date: 1953
  • Dimensions: 87 x 60 cms


Cold War Europe 1953: remarkable Portuguese zoomorphic cartoon map depicting new Soviet satellites as performing circus bears

About this piece:

Mapa Humoristico da Europa em 1953 [A Humorous Map of Europe in 1953]

Colour-printed broadsheet map printed on relatively thin tissue-like paper. Traces of old folds. Minor pinholes and old wear at fold junctures. A little soiling & discolouration to upper verso sections & folds. Overall a still well preserved example.

Remarkable comic and zoomorphic map of Europe published in Portugal at the height of the Cold War in late 1953. The map, drawn & designed by a Portuguese cartoonist working under the pseudonym Star,  appears to have been issued as a folding supplement to the popular Portuguese children’s magazine “Mundo de Aventuras (series 1, #250), published by the Lisbon firm of Ed. J P Silva.

The map counters the commonly held belief that the traditional genre of satirical map making established in the mid-19th Century and perpetuated in recognisable form and design through the early years of the 20th Century had effectively died out in Europe following the horrific blood-letting of World War One.

In Portugal one can in fact see the artistic roots of this remarkable map in a long-established and continuous tradition of satirical & zoomorphic map making that dated back to the third quarter of the 19th Century. It had found initial expression in remarkable comic artistry of Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro in A Berlinda [1870]. A Portuguese edition of Fred Rose’s famous Octopus map was published in Lisbon in 1877. The baton was subsequently passed to artist A Soares whose curious zoomorphic Mappa Humoristico da Europa, was published in Lisbon c1914-16. This same map was reprised again, in slightly revised version published by the same Soares in 1939, now marking the outbreak of World War Two! And at least two further comic zoomorphic maps had been issued in Portugal in 1940-41.

The Portugal of the early 1950’s was one still dominated by the authoritarian right-wing regime of  António de Oliveira Salazar [1889-970], who has served as Prime Minister of the Country since 1932 and founded his power on the corporatist Estado Novo movement. He had negotiated the Spanish Civil War as a supporter of Franco and World War Two as a neutral, though in 1943 he had allowed the Allies use of the strategically important Azores, a move which no doubt helped to smooth Portugal’s subsequent post-war entry into NATO, as one of its twelve founding members in 1949. That is perhaps what is referenced in the unusual character vignette of Portugal herself: a winking fish-faced cod – simpatico bacalhau – who points knowingly to the Azores and pronounces that she is ever the “faithful friend” (presumably of her Western & American Allies).

Laid out, as if on a stage, is the map of post-war Europe, now divided in two, a high iron fence dividing East and West. The Soviet leader Stalin had died in March 1953. The new post-Stalinist world appeared to offer much of the same, as the succession of the new leader, Nikita Krushchev, had been marked by a bitter internal power struggle in Moscow, resulting in the execution of his political rival, Lavrentiy Beria.

Behind the Iron Curtain the new Soviet satellites appear in the familiar guise of an animal circus or menagerie – a well-worn theme that in satirical map making has its origins in the second of Karl Lehmann-Dumont’s Humoristische Karte von Europa of 1914. Here the German and Austrian circus masters are replaced by the ever watchful and threatening bearlike form of a Soviet Cold War ringmaster, suitably clad in red uniform, fur hat & black boots, whip in one hand, pistol in the other, whose threats and cajolements elicit an unusual assortment circus tricks & stunts from his new performing Soviet satellite acolytes – simple juggling of balls & hoops in the Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia & Lithuania; a dare-devil Polish high wire act, the tight rope strung between two large industrial complexes; and further south a series of increasingly dangerous acrobatics. These draw attention to the heavy industrial might & agricultural resources so often associated with the Stalinist economies of Eastern Europe in the early 1950’s: armaments, coal, oil and collectivized farming. All of the Eastern bloc circus performers now take on the symbolic bearlike forms of their Russian overseer. Here a Czech bear simultaneously balances artillery shells & armaments in hands and on chin; an Hungarian bear performs an acrobatic hand-stand on the summit of a coal mine slag heap. A neighbouring Rumanian bear pirouettes gracefully on the top of a gushing oil rig platform against the menacing backdrop of advancing Soviet tanks,  whilst an agricultural Bulgarian bear juggles with bales of recently harvested wheat.

A West European audience looks on in moods that vary from rapt attention & interest (Luxembourg, Belgium, Holland) to complete disinterest & slumber (France). The German tiger sits with left leg outstretched, the latter limb bloodily pinned to the ground by the spikes of the iron curtain that has now descended – a divided Germany would become a final inevitability with East Germany’s joining of the Warsaw Pact in May 1955. Like his northern neighbour, the Austrian weasel, though conducting a suitable Strauss waltz, has also been wounded & divided by the falling curtain, its bloodied & partially severed tail providing the evidence (this a political impasse between East & West only finally resolved with the long-negotiated Austrian State Treaty of 1955).

Further south, the former Yugoslavian bear is now transformed into a “smart gorilla” which has managed to cut himself free from the restrictive Soviet chains – a reference to the Tito-Stalin split of 1948 which led to the expulsion of Yugoslavia from Soviet Cominform organisation and marked the beginning of the so-called Informbiro period which lasted until 1955. Nearby the Albanian regime of Enver Hoxha, equally ambivalent in its dealings with Stalin in the post war years, yet still very loosely tied to the Russian chains, stands on its own separate dais performing suitable “propaganda” for the Soviet circus.

The device of a theatre box and circle seats, in the upper left of the map, allows the inclusion of a wider international audience, including an American lion (looking on through binoculars), a Canadian walrus and Mexican horse in the box, and a colourful array of Caribbean, Central American & South American birds in the tiers of the upper and lower circle. The upper tier reveals a Colombian dove; Ecuadorian macaw; Peruvian parrot; Venezuelan stork; Bolivian rooster, a Paraguayan stork or ibis, a Brazilian parrot; Uruguayan blackbird; Chilean condor and Argentinian penguin.    

At the northern and southern ends of the Curtain, suitable Western doormen stand watch: on the Bosphorus a smartly attired & “always correct” Turkish sheep (Turkey had recently been admitted to NATO in 1952). And in Scandinavia, a similarly attired Danish guard dog looks out across the waters of the Kattegat. Nearby a Swedish fireman-elephant and Norwegian policeman-giraffe enhance Western security & oversight still further. Refreshments for the circus performances are provided by a proud & brave Finnish penguin offering an assortment of sandwiches and pastries and an elegant wide-eyed Italian doe who carries a tin of renowned Italian gelato.

Examples of the map are recorded in institutional collections in Strasbourg and Lisbon (National Library of Portugal). Another example features prominently in the British Library Exhibition, Maps and the 20th Century:  Drawing the Line (Nov 2016 – March 2017)

 In all a most remarkable and captivating satirical map of Cold War Europe.