The term Atlas rings perhaps more familiar in the German language than it does in English, being defined since the end of the sixteenth century as a book format that complies and organizes geographical and astronomical knowledge. We are told that this format received its name from one of Mercator’s map collections in the 1585 which carried a frontispiece showing an image of Atlas, the titan of Greek mythology who holds up the universe at the threshold where day and night meet each other. But later, in the nineteenth century, the term had been increasingly deployd to identify and tabular display of systematized knowledge and one could have encountered an atlas in almost every field of of the empirical sciences: an atlas of astronomy, of anatomy, geography and ethnography, and titan who held up the heavens. When the confidence in empiricism and the aspiration towards comprehensive completeness of positivist systems of knowledge withered in the twentieth century, the term ‘Atlas’  seems to have fallen into a more metaphorical usage.

Benjamin H.D. Buchoh in Gerhard Richter’s Atlas: The Atomic archive, 1993

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