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TO JUNE 30
Give me a map from AAA and, after a glance, I’ll find a way to get anywhere. The organization’s maps are reliable, functional, and, for geographical obsessives like me, mesmerizing. Still, in the beauty department, they don’t hold a candle to the 60 impeccably crafted works now on display in “Celestial Images: Antiquarian Astronomical Charts and Maps From the Seventeenth to the Nineteenth Centuries.” (Johann Bayer’s Orion is pictured.) The antique maps’ engraving by itself would be impressive enough, with example after example of virtuosic cross-hatching, curlicuing, and shading. But what really puts these works over the top is their careful hand-tinting—usually not with the bold reds and blues associated with High Renaissance art, but with a sunnier, watercolory palette evocative of 20th-century painting. And, amazingly, these maps—printed on mere paper—have survived the ravages of the centuries without significant damage. Not being an expert in astronomy or mythology, I can’t say I understand too well what’s going on in each example—and the captions on the wall don’t really help. But the exhibit does allow viewers up-close and personal access to the maps. Take advantage of it, because the works are indisputably gorgeous—which almost makes up for the fact that they can’t show you the most direct road to Monkey’s Eyebrow, Ky. On view from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday, to Friday, June 30, at the National Academy of Sciences, 2101 Constitution Ave. NW. Free. (202) 334-2436. (Louis Jacobson)