Home » Product » Presqu’Ile de la Perfection

Presqu’Ile de la Perfection

  • Author: Anonymous (after St Francois de Sales)
  • Date: c1855-65
  • Dimensions: card: 13.5 x 9 cms


A rare allegorical manuscript map providing a Catholic guide & template for spiritual & moral education in mid 19th Century France

About this piece:

Presqu’ile de la Perfection

Original manuscript with coloured inks and outline washes on 19th Century card with decoratively embossed borders. The recto surface with map, the verso with descriptive text entitled “Description allégorique”. Some light wear & soiling, one small area of ink smudging to map. Some additional light border staining  to verso but overall a nicely preserved example, considering the age, format & medium.

A rare an highly unusual 19th Century miniature map, almost identical in both format and design to a much larger and more elaborate example that we offered for sale several years ago and which is listed & fully described in our Website archive.

Both are rare 19th Century survivals from a period in which the influence of Catholic religious teaching held powerful sway over the psyche & moral education of the young people of France through local primary schools as well as an extensive network of Catholic convents, monasteries and seminaries across the country.

This map of the Presqu’Ile de la Perfection (The Peninsula of Perfection) appears to have been an integral element of the Catholic education of the young, an oft-replicated template and design that served as a means of spiritual education and moral instruction as well as a focal point for religious contemplation and personal meditation. It is one which young students and religious novitiates appear to have regularly copied and replicated by hand with the greatest care, detail and attention, as this example testifies.

The verso description repeats almost verbatim that of our previous example, though here directly referencing St. Francis de Sales (Francois de Sales) [1567-1622], Bishop of Geneva, as the original source & inspiration of this map. He was known as the “Gentleman Saint”, and much venerated for his patience and gentleness. He is perhaps best known for his Introduction to The Devout Life, a book addressed to lay people which encouraged personal charity rather than penance as a means of developing one’s inner spiritual life. His was certainly a model of saintly spirituality and devotion well-suited to a Catholic instructional map of this genre.

The description reads as follows:

The Peninsula of Perfection is situated to the East of the Continent of the World to which it is joined by the Isthmus of Charity. It is washed on its northern and eastern shores by the vast Ocean of Divine Love, and on its southern shores by the Sea of Self-Doubt. Cape Perseverance is to be found at its most southerly point, The Cape of Holy Defiance at its most northerly, and in the north east, Cape Mortification. The principal rivers are, firstly, that of Divine Consolation, which has its source at the foot of the mountains of Generosity, provides water for the City of Happiness and flows into the Ocean of Divine Love. Secondly, that of Peaceful Heart which emerges from the Mountains of Neglect of God’s Wishes and disappears into the Sea of Self-Doubt. The approach to this place would be inaccessible were it not for the fact that travellers, having come close to the sharp rocks of Fear and those of Self-reflection, Troubles, Anxieties, finally discover the Gulf of Confidence and throw down their anchor in the Port of Divine Love. The soil here is very fertile and commerce flourishes greatly. From here they export into the neighbouring Continent, Zeal for the Salvation of Souls and Compassion, and they receive in exchange, solicitudes and crosses, from which the inhabitants know how to make a good profit. After 22 years of struggle, St. Francois de Sales became Master of this flourishing Country: the City of Happiness which he built soon became its Capital; by his care the sovereign Charity of the Kingdom and its two principal Ministers, Inner Calmness and Humility, establish their home in the new City which is situated on the small hill of Self-denial. It includes within its bounds several academies, two of which are particularly remarkable; one is established to propagate the High Sciences of how to learn self-control, to love God, and to recognize the nothingness of the World; in the second they cultivate, with great success, the Sciences which deal with the recognition of True Happiness and the examination of the Wonders of the Creator, to which is added the study of Wisdom & Civility; and the essential art of avoiding the frequent shipwrecks of the Century in which we live (19th Century).

The peninsula itself is divided into six distinctive regions: Meditation (Recueillement); Charity (Charité); Fervour (Ferveur); Self-Contempt (Mépris de soi-même); Solitary barreness ( Desert Aridité); and Love of God (Amour de Dieu), each with its own distinctive topography and landscape. Several islands appear in the surrounding waters including The Isle of St.Joseph (Capital: Bonne Mort), the Isle of St.Mary (Capital: Imitation); the Isle of Purgatory (Capital:Pitié) ; and the Isle of Wisdom (Capital: Raison)

It is interesting to note that the Territory of the Continent of the World (on the left of the map), to which the Peninsula of Perfection is attached, is full of features and names that were clearly seen by those within the Catholic Church to represent the very basest of human instincts, emotions and sentiments. So we have Lacheté (Cowardice), Infidelité (Infidelity), Infamie (Infamy), Vengeance (Vengeance), Médisance (Slander), Agitation (Agitation), Jalousie (Jealousy), Sensualité (Sensuality), Haine (Hatred), Ennuis (Boredom), Contradiction (Contradiction) and Trahison (Betrayal). This all-too-worldlywise landscape is completed by the Mountains of Pride and Ingratitude, the Hills of Frivolity and the Rivers of Vanity and Caprices.

In March 1879, soon after the election of Prime Minister Jules Ferry, this map became a central prop in a increasingly heated debate on the state of France’s primary schools and primary school teachers in the Paris National Assembly. The proposition before the Assembly was to approve the creation of nearly eighty new teaching colleges (écoles normales primaires), eight for male teachers and seventy for female teachers in the Departments of the country where the provision of such teaching colleges was completely lacking. According to the subsequent report by Abel Ronjat published in the Journal Officiel of July 29th 1879 (No.356), by this date, France only had 79 teaching colleges for men and 19 for women and the recruitment of women teachers remained particularly difficult. The law for the creation of these eighty new colleges was finally adopted by  on August 1st 1879.

During the initial debates in the Chambre des Deputés in March 1879, An example of this map was brought into the debating Chamber and displayed by the deputé for the Yonne Department, M. Paul Bert [1833-1886], to considerable amusement & ridicule of fellow deputés. To Bert and many like-minded anti-clericalists, the map was a patent symbol of everything that was wrong with French religiously-based education at the time. Catholic religious education was viewed with growing suspicion by sections of an increasingly vociferous secular and anti-clerical political class. Evidenced by what was seen as a blinkered and outdated religious paradigm, they were eager to see the education of the nation’s children taken out the hands of Catholic priests and nuns and placed firmly under the more enlightened, rational, progressive umbrella of laicised & secular state control.

Fellow anti-clericalist Edouard Lockroy writing in the newspaper Le Rappel on 22nd March 1879 in an article entitled “Cartes, Tableaux et Presqu’Iles”  contemptuously condemned the use & influence of such maps:

M. Paul Bert has shown clerical education in all its stupidity when he brought to the speaker’s sample rostrum the map of the “Peninsula of Perfection”. This sample of clerical geography made all the Chamber laugh, and will make all the Country laugh. But without any doubt, having laughed, one will feel saddened in considering that instead of teaching pupils normal lessons all about France, Europe, Asia, Africa and America, they teach them these things….have you ever known such nonsense. Assuredly not. Unfortunately clerical nonsense is rational & systematic nonsense. It has a well-defined objective, which is despicable but not witless. The geographers who draw up this map of the Peninsula of Perfection think of this map in just the same way as we do. They find it, as we do, ridiculous. However that does not stop them from drawing up the map and forcing their students to copy it. In fact exactly the opposite. It is precisely because the map is ridiculous that they impose it upon their pupils.

Clerical teaching never attempts to develop a child’s intelligence. It works to destroy it. The clerical teacher starts from this idea, that Reason is the enemy of Faith, and that he must “enslave” Reason. The method of enslaving Reason is easy: it consists of preventing intelligence to function. One obtains this result by removing from the child every correct idea, every serious thought, amusing them with mysteries and filling them up with twaddle.

A young man or young woman spends a year studying the “Peninsula of Perfection” and the other pictures that M. Paul Bert showed to the Chamber. During that year, they lose their taste for what is true, their intelligence slumbers; their heads become full of dangerous nonsense. The goal has been achieved.

Then the clerical teacher claims victory. He has “enslaved” Reason. The unfortunate being whom he has just assassinated morally has been conquered for the Faith. He no longer reflects, no longer thinks, no longer studies. He is a sort of living cadaver, who belongs only to the Church.

This is where “little maps” and “fanciful geographies” lead. This is where little pious pictures and lists of Purgatory’s “condemned” leads as well.  Oh ! When one thinks about it, these latter things no longer seem amusing, they are disgusting. You almost feel as if you have in front of you a weapon that that has been used in a crime. 

Several 19th Century printed examples of this map are also known, one such being published by Imprimerie Pichon in St.Etienne in 1856, and another in Strasburg around the same date, as illustrated in the Gazette des Beaux Arts in 1977.  A similar manuscript example, dated 1857, is preserved in the collections of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France.

In all, a fine manuscript miniature of this exceedingly unusual & uniquely controversial allegorical map.


L’Etoile du Matin, Tablettes Pieuses de la Jeunesse, publiées sous les auspices de Marie [Lyon, 1846] p.344; Revue anecdotique des lettres et des arts, Volumes 2 [Paris, 1856] Description of printed map of same title (Imp. Pichon, St.Etienne, folio) pp.174-176; Charles Sauvestre : Mes Lundis [Paris, 1864] Ch. XI, pp.69-76; Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Ref GeD 28629 – Presqu’Ile De La Perfection: example in ink & watercolours, dated 1857.