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Adam Dant’s Map Of Viral London

May 29, 2020
by the gentle author

Contributing Cartographer Adam Dant has kept himself occupied during the lockdown by drawing this map of contagion in the capital

Click to enlarge


“In my studio next to Liverpool St Station, I was colouring a busy cityscape of Leicester Sq. The drawing was finished in early March but, looking at it now, it struck me that I had created a scene I may not encounter again for a long time – a panorama from a pre-Coronavirus age.

My Viral London is a cartographic representation of how the capital has been assaulted by epidemics throughout history. From the plague of 664AD which struck monastic communities, destabilised the church, to the AIDS crisis and ‘The London Patient’ who was the second case to be cured.

The effect of fifteen hundred years of epidemics, transforming Londoners’ behaviour and their landscape, is characterised not by major social projects but by incidents that are commonly anecdotal and poignant. Walking home through a deserted City of London by night, the narrator of Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of The Plague Year, witnesses a woman open her window to cry, ‘Death, Death, Death!’. Erasmus, visiting London during an outbreak of the Sweyting Sickness, was too scared to enter his lodgings to collect his boots for fear of catching the illness. In 1918, Londoners celebrating the Armistice were unaware that the deadly Spanish Flu was being spread amongst the revellers.

I started wondering how pandemics might have coloured the sensibilities of artists in the past. We always imagine life was much nastier back then.

Many of my artistic predecessors witnessed episodes of viral assault. Brueghel’s The Triumph of Death is underpinned by the ever present risk of plague, Hollar engraved views of London before and after the Great Fire which had followed the pestilence like a purgative, and no Renaissance artist working in Venice was ever safe from the French Pox, also known as Neapolitan bone-ache or syphilis, to give its modern name. Among those paintings by Canaletto teeming with people, La Serenissima contains a masked and wigged figure wearing a beaked mask filled with herbs to ward off the pestilence.

I am wondering if my depictions of packed public spaces will serve as perpetual descriptions of ‘how we used to be’ and whether I should now be drawing more classical crowd scenes in which figures waft past each other at arms’ length, with a courtly grace conferring mandatory social distancing.

Perhaps Leicester Sq, Sloane Sq, Berkley Sq, the Royal Exchange or any of the other teeming centres of life that I have portrayed may never appear the same again after the war on Covid-19, any more than they did after the Blitz?”

Adam Dant’s Viral London Map was commissioned by The Critic





Adam Dant’s MAPS OF LONDON & BEYOND is a mighty monograph collecting together all your favourite works by Spitalfields Life‘s Contributing Cartographer in a beautiful big hardback book.

Including a map of London riots, the locations of early coffee houses and a colourful depiction of slang through the centuries, Adam Dant’s vision of city life and our prevailing obsessions with money, power and the pursuit of pleasure may genuinely be described as ‘Hogarthian.’

Unparalleled in his draughtsmanship and inventiveness, Adam Dant explores the byways of London’s cultural history in his ingenious drawings, annotated with erudite commentary and offering hours of fascination for the curious.

The book includes an extensive interview with Adam Dant by The Gentle Author.

Adam Dant’s limited edition prints including the VIRAL LONDON MAP are available to purchase through TAG Fine Arts

8 Responses leave one →
  1. Jonathon Green permalink
    May 29, 2020

    Currently living on the site of Pardon Pits (EC1). Repurposed from the Charterhouse orchard

  2. Stella Herbert permalink
    May 29, 2020

    Delighted to see Adam has mentioned the hospital ships moored at Long Reach on the Thames, from 1881 I believe. My grandmother and her sister in the early 1890s were on what was known in the family as the German battleship – HMS Atlas!!
    Since she survived to the age of 90 the isolation then did a good job.
    But I can’t see a mention of the last London cholera epidemic of 1866 – is it hiding there?! Killed grandmother’s grandfather!!

  3. paul loften permalink
    May 29, 2020

    What a fantastic map! Thank you, Adam. although I no longer have to make the daily trek to the City I occasionally have to get down to St Paul’s by tube and take a walk to pick up some supplies. My journey will never be the same again. My poor feet in contact with the sites of Plague outbreaks, Sweating Sickness, murdered innocent dogs, Smallpox, Spanish flu, infected meat and the burial grounds of thousands of Plague victims! Thankfully, my route avoids the one horror that would haunt my mind eternally, that is of the blind man that drank to many victuals and woke up in a pit of bodies of plague victims about to be buried.

  4. May 29, 2020

    I know many will comment about the pandemic aspect of this — but I have often wanted to
    peer over Adam Dant’s shoulder as he begins to plot one of his amazingly-unique maps. As a non-map-maker, I am featuring sheaves of tracing paper, used as a preliminary
    “way in”, and perhaps a long process of refining, refining, refining. Either way — I am so glad
    he is practicing his artform.

    I so enjoy having Adam’s book in my art library, and recommend it heartily. The large horizontal format recalls vintage map books of yore. And yet these are one-of-a-kind map-centric interpretations of fascinating topics, page-by-page.

    Thanks for shining a light, GA.

  5. May 29, 2020

    Absolutely fascinating Adam, full of some facts I would never have known!
    Your maps are always so inspirational, thank you.

  6. Jill Wilson permalink
    May 30, 2020

    Another Adam Dant masterpiece, and a great reminder that London has suffered and survived many pandemics in the past.


  7. Keith Waldon permalink
    June 1, 2020

    Those of us with ancient roots in the area may have inherited ancestral antibodies to protect us from whatever pestilence might appear. Stay alert!

  8. Esther permalink
    June 12, 2020

    Received Adam Dant’s book; Maps of London and Beyond this week and I am enjoying myself studying all the details and hidden stories in these wonderful drawings. Wish this new map was also in it; I guess there will be more map-books from his hand? Its fascinating how much has happened in London(didn’t know there had been so many riots in London through the history)

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