Category Archives: Java La Grande

Drawing Hypotheses on a Newly Mapped World

At the same time as maps offer guides to spatially orient their readers, they collect a record of known space for viewers to occupy, collecting and displaying relationships that allow viewers to draw hypotheses about their relation to a totality otherwise not able to be seen.  The format of all maps provide tools to understand and collate relations over an expanse otherwise not evident.  The possibilities or potentiality for such comprehension–or the experience of the knowable–is encoded in the directions that any map provides to better navigate space by ship, car, train, or plane, but its syntax is also an invitation to inhabit space to formulate a hypothesis about expanse; early modern maps are especially conscious about how they mediated a record of the inhabited world.

My interest in how maps make these relations evident in multiple ways has been a theme of earlier posts; I have elsewhere blogged about the spaces Google Maps present for viewers, and the limited frameworks they offer to occupy space.  Once might do well to gauge the productivity of how maps generate hypotheses about an individual relation to expanse by the unity by their  representational surfaces–although the pictorial aspects of maps are too readily categorized as qualitative additions, held in contrast to their quantitative construction or collation of precise measurements of terrestrial position.

Early modern cartographers in the Dieppe school, like Nicolas Desliens, adopted modern practices in the hand-drawn maps, typified by the below 1566 world map, based on Portuguese nautical charts.  The maps retained the format of projection, but offered a new way to inhabit the expanding world map for elite audiences–here by displaying a new region of the earth, Java la Grande, a mythical island that described by Marco Polo and perpetuated by the cartographers based in Normandy:  the green swirls on Java recall the engraved illustrations in works of early modern botany or natural history that Sachiko Kusukawa has argued constituted material evidence from the natural world.

800px- Globe by Nicolas_Desliens_Map_(1566)

Java la Grande is prominently labeled, and the undoubted centerpiece of this world-map by Desliens, even though it is not at  its center:  it is, rather, introduced as a new area of inhabitation, whose verdant interior is a seat of spices and potential wealth, as well as lying, cosmographically speaking, in a sense as a complementary counterpart to the Americas, echoing the harmonious balancing of landmasses from ancient geography.  But the map also advertises the region’s potential wealth to potential backers of voyages.  There are, however, limited use of formal codes to structure the map’s surface, despite its notation of tropics echoes of the formal structure of world projections, or other conventions that lend order by structuring the map’s surface for its viewer.

The circumscribed role of America in Desliens’ map is perhaps also striking to modern viewers because it minimizes the expanse of the Americas in a somewhat marginal manner, probably recalling the thin crescent of coastal archipelago in the multi-sheet wall chart the humanist Martin Waldseemüller designed, which did not even name “America,” and gave far greater place to South America


–though Waldsemüller did name the region on the slightly later set of printed gores that he engraved for purchasers to use to assemble their own globes:

Wertvolle Waldseem¸ller-Karte entdeckt

Waldsemüller exploited the expansive wall map of twelve sheets as more compendious and expansive record than a globe.  The limited employment of conventions to structure their graphic surface might be explained to some extent by the use of map signs to comprehend a range of toponymic content and limited authority of map signs to structure their surface.

These images synthesize nautical charts in a comprehensive system of knowledge are at a remove from the ways that information is displayed about America–if still an empty land-mass– in later explicitly political maps that placed the Americas as an appendage of royal sovereign space, or as an area of self-government.  In an instance of the first case, Georg Bickham invited viewers of his 1748 “Chorographical Description of All the Dominions Subject to the King of Great Britain” to process their relations to its disparate dominions in a coherent ways as nothing less than a political space.  The conflation of a chorography of the national community with a global map is a classic conceit of empire:  but the below engraving suggests a wonderfully compelling way of reasoning across two hemispheres.

The map, engraved and printed in London for audiences far more familiar with maps, shows continents as unpopulated landmasses, but the relations of whose inhabitants were subject to the royal rule of George II, in a somewhat magniloquent statement of royal rule for its viewers to scan.  If the map reveals the expanse of Great Britain’s “Dominions in Europe, Africa, and America,” it is an optimistic knitting together of regions geographically removed, but subservient to the royal crown whose cartouche still occupied center stage.

Chorographical England 1748

To be sure, this image processes something of a cognitive map of the royal subject’s relation to the vast terrestrial rule of George II as a totality that spans no less than three continents.  The map is straightforwardly political, but conjures a land of royal unity that was geographically dispersed, and linked symbolically only in the map.  Indeed, the cartouche in which Bickham inscribed the “Lord Majesty” in relation to its subjects has greater prominence or centrality in the map than any place-name or region that is represented on its surface, as well as considerably more ornate a subject of Bickham’s burin in the acanthus-like flourishes and drapery:

Crest as Cartouche

The obedience by which the royal subject inscribed the expanse of the map is more prominent than its geographic content because the map is quite distinct from a geographic record.  The regions of North America are in fact rarely mapped in much detail aside from their shorelines; greater detail is accorded The Banks, shoals famously dangerous for nautical approaches, than other areas, and the ties to Britain confirmed more by toponymy than by qualitative detail or the density of its inhabitation, and other than its coasts is largely blank, suggesting greater habituation with nautical travel:

Upper Canada--1748

Curiously, in this map of British global possessions, boundary lines among the colonies are noted but seem almost notional than juridical, and far less fixed in space than the rivers with which they intersect, dotted lines that extend into an unknown interior before they peter out into a vast unmapped continent, as if inviting viewers into blank unmapped regions.

trailing boundary lines of political division

The map illustrates the invisible ties of power that united these regions, far-flung as they were, as an image of royal authority.  If maps were advertisements of power and illustrations of authority in the early modern period and Enlightenment, this map serves to create a set of fictive ties that united and oriented its viewers to a sense of disconnected space, which the cartographical content of the map was not in itself sufficient to process.

The map complements a written printed chorographical description, as much as it offers a strictly cartographical record, the symbolic use of whose conventions allows us to connect geographically removed regions in its pictorial space.

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Filed under Dieppe School, Georg Bickham, George II, Java La Grande, Martin Waldseemüller, Nicolas Desliens, pictorial space, Sovereign Maps

Java La Grande

The map “Java La Grande,” an imagined continent that invited close inspection from viewers, gives new meaning to the assertion that the map is the territory.  For although this territory never existed, it was mapped: the medieval construction of the antipodes, a mode to balance the continents, was an artifact of early modern European cartography of considerable duration and lasting power.  When Matteo Ricci mapped the world’s regions in 1607 for his Chinese hosts, his copy of the Ortelian map included a large discussion of “Guinea” as a place not studied or known well by Europeans, and perhaps an independent island or attached to the southern pole–albeit one that was not known to be inhabited, and with which little if any contact had been made.  In this sense, Guinea remained an outlier in the age of discoveries, and a somewhat rare blank spot on Ricci’s global map.


Ricci SE Asia.png


As an artifact with an esteemed cartographical lineage, the image of the continental landmass continued to be mapped into existence by the mid-nineteenth century.  But its appearance in the below chromolithograph of a Renaissance map from the library of baronet Sir Thomas Philips was declared the first map ever recorded of nothing less than the very continent of Australia, as ostensibly witnessed by the Portuguese sailors in the pristine state of nature in which they had allegedly first discovered it.  The map was prized as an image of initial discovery.




The anonymous artist-cartographer recorded the recession of space in this map, which as it recedes its inhabitants are registered in brownish tracery, foregrounded the idyllic life of this entirely unknown land.  You get the idea of arriving in a region taken as Australia that was the entrance to a landscape of untold wonders in the map of “Java La Grande” designed for Nicolas Vallard’s nautical atlas of 1547 in Dieppe, a center for the diffusion of Portuguese nautical charts for an elite audience of European nobility, reproduced in this 1856 facsimile now stored among the jewels of the Australian National Library.

The pictorial landscape chart was a luxury embellishment of the sorts of rutters that were drawn with artists of local topography.  The material object was prized and promoted by Phillips as a record of the first encounter with the territory of Australia, reproduced with such painstaking care in the mid-nineteenth century  as a chromolithograph from the first baronet’s library when he tried to disperse the Vallard atlas and other early modern books to the British Library, inspiring the reproduction of the map, which he mis-titled “The First Map of Australia,” to promote the value of his collection   The map made for the Vallard atlas by an unknown painter was probably valued because it seems to record an image of Portuguese encounter with the indigenous inhabitants of Australia.  As part of the corpus of Dieppe charts that were, unlike earlier nautical maps, pictorial syntheses Portuguese discoveries of almost ethnographic qualitative richness as depictions of inhabitants for elite audiences, the image has provided a touchstone of a vanished native culture that is particularly powerful as an imagined precursor of the discovery of Australia, valued as an image of imagined contact.  The Vallard map possesses the distinctively attractive qualitative lushness peculiar even to the Dieppe school of which it forms part.

The identification of Australia with the mythical “Java La Grande” is not entirely rooted in geographic fancy.  Java La Grande was described by Marco Polo as the largest island in the world–but reflected some recognition of this unknown landmass that extended to Antarctica, and recurs in the Dieppe maps as a cosmographical idée fixe as not an island, but terra firma:  at the same time as the current-Java was described by geographers of the 1540s, the Dieppe school identified La Grande Jave as an extension of the Antarctic Terra Australis, and it was taken as an early evidence of the southern continent’s early discovery.

The map became taken as the territory.  And so why not preserve this map as a treasure of the collections of the Australian National Library, even if it is a nineteenth-century copy–and quite a faithful one–of a map that represented quite a different imagined land?



Early identified as the first map made of the continent, this map provided a list of coastal ports that an artist proceeded to fill in with imagined views of inhabitants advancing as if to greet newly arriving visitors with arms literally open in welcoming signs, if not in a ritual procession.  The intensity of play of imagination is evident in contrast to a later 1777 nautical map showing two ships’ circumnavigation of the world under the command of Antoine de Bougainville, whose cartographer constrained himself to parts of the Eastern coast observed with sufficient detail to establish for readers, allowing far more local detail to the as yet unsettled continent, and confined himself to the better-known shorelines of its coast:



Yet what was later prized as the “first map of Australia” is  distinct from a roughly contemporary 1543 chart by Guillaume Brouscon of the same school in Dieppe, who synthesized information from prized Portuguese charts to a new audience of landlocked European nobles.  This earlier map devoted a considerable space to “Java La Grande,”  extending the rectangular format of the engraved global projections later standardized after their printing by Mercator and Ortelius, if already adopted by humanist geographers, and offering far more detailed depictions of the settled interior than nautical charts that confine themselves to coastal towns.  The almost ornamental multiplication of compass roses that proliferate like heraldic crests on this map suggest its ornamental nature in a corpus of maps.

A fair amount of extension of the topos of cartographical invention or the mediation of new discoveries that animated these excited atlases of the late 1540s in Dieppe are reflected the map of Java le Grand among the 56 maps that the nautical sailor and self-styled cosmographer Guillaume le Testu included in his Comosgraphie Universelle, selon les Navigateurs, tant anciens que modernes.  The work’s comprehensive claims derived from its use of a range of Spanish and Portuguese charts together with maps of his own design that synthesized recent maps of the Americas:




He readily presented this map as rife with cartographical invention, as well as following cartographical conventions, as if suggesting the frequent embellishment of persuasive or recognizable detail in maps, more than the license his own achievements in mapping much of the Americas may have merited:  “what I have marked and depicted is only by imagination, and I have not noted or remarked on any of the commodities or incommodities of the place, nor its mountains, rivers or other things; for there has never yet been any man who has made a certain discovery of it.”  The absence of “certain discovery” is an odd juxtaposition with his own discoveries, and the admission of the absence of such “certain discovery ” led to a land that was entitled to be created by the imagination.

The imagined land’s expanse was documented as well in nautical maps limited to shorelines, offering far less qualitative local details than the expanse of its coast, but suggesting in an enticing fashion its expanse, and multiplying elegant compass-roses as if for an excuse to include more gold leaf, as a sophisticated ornamental boundary of decorative motifs:



These abundant cartographical imagery suggested the fascination of imagining how space extended far beyond a situated eye, and a sort of key to processing the extent of that dramatically expanded spatial expanse of the inhabited world.  But for Brouscon, as for le Testu, Java was both a continent of sorts, that extended to the pole, and needed to be accommodated by an extra flap of paper to be contained, but an uninhabited or at least unknown place in the “Terra Austral,” jutting up to Indonesia to reflect geographic tradition and, perhaps, to balance the landmasses distributed elsewhere on the chart:
Java in Brouscon's Map
The addition of far greater detail and qualitative content in the Vallard map developed the notion of the materiality of the map in the Dieppe school.  If we are struck most by its interior, the coastline of Java in the Vallard map suggest a detailed attentiveness to local toponymy, derived from Portuguese sources, of more specific scope, despite the lush detail of its interior, and a playful alteration of inks of different colors to add variety to its form:
java's Coastlines
The considerable local detail depicting something like the discovery of a pre-Adamic life is something of a counterpart to that expansion of the inhabited expanse in early world maps:   the clothes of its inhabitants, cast in somewhat neo-Orientalist garb as following their red-turbaned leader to greet arriving men, are paired with curious dwellings, customs, and styles of work, as well as a uniquely local bestiary and vegetation, as   well as different customs of social life: two figures on the left of this scene almost seem foreign observers, describing what they see:
Dancing Inhabitants.Vaillard


The narwhale rising from the waters just off the coast, shown without regard for the scale of islands or inlets on the coast, paired with a resting bobcat or lynx.  This image of the Eastern coast of Australia is only slightly embellished from Vallard’s original.

It’s been recently suggested that the inventive maps of the Dieppe school fabricated the entire continent out of geographic legends to evoke a potential land for colonization by the French monarch, as in this earlier 1566 Desliens world-map.  Indeed, these deluxe manuscripts reflect the broader interest of the materializing of wealth on the map, and, on the surface, seem to cast Java La Grande as something of the potential equivalent of what the Spaniards found in the Americas.


Nicolas_Desliens_ World Map 1566) with Java


The notion of this fabrication of continent seems absurd, but had confirmation in geographic theory.  Java La Grande is projected as a land of potential conquest and wealth, and is a survival of medieval written geographies that was transposed to a recognizably modern cartographical form, if it antedated the imagined expansive island of Taprobana, identified with Madagascar but often shown as a land of wealth, and in ways moved this target of European interest further East toward the Spice Islands and Indonesia.

The exquisitely tangible nature of the contents of the Vallard map may give some confirmation to its invention.  The upper register of this first image of the original Vallard atlas, now in the Huntington library, showed the region’s aboriginal inhabitants in a monochrome hues of striking similarity to a cave-painting as proud hunters bearing spears:


Dieppe atlas origianl


The image now held in Canberra is a striking copy of this image of the inhabitants of Java le Grande, which featured its  inhabitants in a procession across the newly mapped land:


horseback procession in Java on horseback


The placement of  initial folio perhaps as it was the most pressing communication of cartographical news–pays particular attention to the forms of habitation in Java, and the houses in which the inhabitants live and the palm-nuts on which they live:  as if to embody the information displayed in disembodied form in later world map projections:  in the years before Mercator’s Theatrum orbis terrarum, nautical charts concretized viewers’ material relation to spatial particularity.


First map Vallard atlas


The map offers something like a luxurious window into the newly discovered land for viewers to contemplate in ways that simple terrestrial projections did not allow.

The imagined continent of luxury and untold riches, filled with nutmeg and cloves as well as “idolatrous inhabitants,” made its way onto the globe by 1583, if somewhat assimilated to Antarctica:




This might explain the staying power of nautical charts, based on observational practices of sailors and possessing a clearer pedigree as transcriptions of space, into the seventeenth century.  At the same time as material goods were arriving in Europe from west Africa and southeast Asia, maps provided something of a spatial catalogue to understand their arrival and place them somewhere in a lived topography, as much as they offered tools of orientation.  Java La Grande was attractive as something of an evidence of the inhabitation of a region later identified with Australia, before the arrival of Captain Cook, in ways that depicted the inhabitants that occupied its expanse in something of a romantic light.


Add. 7085, f. 1


Filed under Australia, Java La Grande, La Grande Jave, Nautical Charts, rutters