Category Archives: Nautical Charts

The World Map between Workshop and Laboratory

It’s not easy to detect how workshops transmitted protocols of mapping or the content of maps before authoritative practices for recording geographic knowledge  Partly because of the difficulty to describe the transmission of knowledge in manuscript maps, and partly because of the foreign nature of terrestrial continuity in these maps, historians have tied the techniques of engraving with an ability to delineate and effectively demonstrate a geographic space that viewers could process and comprehend.  Tools of engraving afforded a flexible graphic syntax to represent the discoveries of the New World and diffuse the Ptolemaic models of mapping expanse on a uniformly bounded graticule of parallels and meridians from the early sixteenth century, but had earlier afforded a systematic symbolic structure to organize the terrestrial world.  Manuscript world maps based on Ptolemaic cartographical models vaunted their ability to orient viewers on the indices that embodied a continuous bounded expanse.  Yet the inventive abilities associated with the uniform graticule of parallels and meridians gained such demonstrative force in ways that were informed by a rich Mediterranean tradition of nautical charts, often discounted because of the association of engraved maps and modernity.

Yet the nautical charts were adapted in experimental ways as a foundation for assembling a record of terrestrial expanse.  Indeed, charts first registered shifting knowledge of the inhabited world, and a means to symbolize the expanse of an inhabited world:  indeed, the genre of nautical charting first described the inhabited world–the “ecumene“–as a format able to represent and indeed process the settlement of a terrestrial expanse greater than most viewers could imagine.


hmartellus world map


This small “world map” illuminated in Florence about 1490 was been described by Peter Barber as one of a critical map in world history because of how it registered Portuguese travels around the Cape of Good Hope in 1488, and expanded the distance from Lisbon to the coast of China to 230°–expanding its share of the inhabited globe.

Yet rather than use spatial conventions for transcribing expanse, this small map,  adapted the conventions of nautical charts to do so–conventions that note coastal ports, promontories, estuaries, or coastal cities to map the settled world, rather than chart routes of travel.  But this small map, revising Ptolemaic cartographical dogma to accommodate Portuguese descriptions of Africa’s coast after Bartholomew Diaz’s rounding of what became known as the Cape of Good Hope, seems less designed for orientation than it envisions a comprehensive  coverage of the earth’s surface in the reduced format of a sheet about 200 by 120 cm.:  its elegant coloration suggests the reduction of a tradition of globe-making; indeed, Martellus  includes the newly mapped Cape as violating its lower ornamental frame, as if boasting about its greater comprehensiveness as a record of the known world’s surface; ports on the southern tip of Africa, way stations for sailors to southeast Asia, expand the world beyond a classical frame of knowledge.

Although the map is taken as evidence of its suggestion of a maritime route to the East that may have reached Columbus, who would have been encouraged by its apparent expansion of Eurasia to 230°, beyond earlier world-maps and beyond its actual size.  Although the map includes no graticule, a decidedly later map by the same cartographer with a coordinate grid also expanded the coast of Africa beyond the parameters of its frame, as if seeking to accommodate nautical information in an existing format:




Neither map tells us much directly about practices of mapping, but both raise questions about how nautical charts were adapted in deluxe manuscript world maps and about practices of transferring coastal locations in charts to terrestrial maps:  the first smaller image is perhaps more decorative or emblematic, and reveals minimal attention to islands or ocean expanse beyond Eurasia, but it similarly works to shape provisional knowledge of the terrestrial globe from heterogeneous sources.

The development of a uniform graticule of parallels and meridians would be privileged as a graphical form to chart the uniformity of terrestrial expanse.  But its adoption followed sustained experimentation in a tradition of manuscript mapping that is often neglected–but which provided a sort of laboratory for the expansion of a map of the world’s inhabitation, as well as a cartographical craftsmanship in which the mapmaker accommodated information without a set conventions and in makeshift ways.  This post returns attention to how the tradition of charting, associated with workshops, improvised forms to illustrate terrestrial expanse, often with minimal use of graticules of Euclidean derivation.

Manuscripts that synthesized nautical charts maps to fashion descriptions of the settlement of an inhabited world, unlike the oceanic expanse and locations of ports that were noted in nautical charts:  the material construction of such world maps offer stunning evidence of the plastic nature of mapped knowledge and the modern use of charts, by adopting existing cartographical formats to invest new knowledge-claims in maps, both by compiling a corpus of individual maps and redrawing extant cartographical forms, even though they do not follow such a clear protocol of bounding a uniform distribution of terrestrial expanse in the manner of global projections on a rigorous Ptolemaic model of conformal mapping.

The world map that opened the so-called “Medici atlas“–a sequence of eight maps that suggest aims of encompassing terrestrial expanse–reveals how maps acted as compilations of cartographical forms to experiment with recording terrestrial expanse in the same city where Martellus worked and enjoyed wide popularity.


Medicean Atlas


It’s difficult to know how these sequence of nautical maps in a single codex in Florence’s adopt a Genoese nautical chart to present a new model of map making, revising formats of charting widespread in port cities like Genoa to record sea-routes in order to provide a comprehensive pictorial rendering of inhabited space–the world map included not only the cities Ptolemy noted, but cities mentioned by Marco Polo, the Venetian traveller, as the Delhi Sultinate, and texts of the geographer Ibn Battuta, and charts.  It amplified its content through the addition of a sequence of additional maps, also of nautical derivation, of the Italian peninsula before manuscript maps of the Aegean, Black, Adriatic and Caspian Seas, each including cities and the last showing the landlocked closure of the Caspian sea, that oriented viewers to extra-Mediterranean geography with far greater precision than earlier world maps.

As well as revealing interest in the compilation or collation of evidence in maps, its revision of the template of an Africa unable to be circumnavigated and a closed Indian ocean probably responded to considerable interest in late fifteenth-century Genoa in regions of “Africa nondum cognita,” suggesting a clear interest in new working practices of mapmaking.  Alexander von Humboldt, who knew the map well, took it as evidence of a medieval knowledge of Africa’s circumnavigation–so difficult was it for him to separate the map from a register of what was known.

Perhaps the expansion of Africa to the Cape of Good Hope was drawn atop the existing map when the true form of Africa was known, or even added to the original chart in ways that emulated later prototypes, and in essence kept the cartographical compilation “up to date”:  if the case, suggested by the coloring of the map beyond an inked outline of the continent, it would suggest a new use of the map as a canvas that was altered at the same time as transmitted in fixed protocols or techniques.  It would also suggest a process of re-visioning the inhabited world by revising the pictorial content of the map to foreground its descriptive abilities.

Why was the manuscript “atlas” made, what readers did it address, and how did it construe geographical expanse?  Did it try to consciously convert the inhabitation of coasts so emphasized in portolan charts to descriptive and representational ends?

Is it representative of the expansion of the tradition of charting to newly communicative ends as a demonstration of worldly settlement?  The term “atlas” was devised by Mercator to describe a collection of maps, and its application to this volume of maps is, strictly speaking, anachronistic–the collection of maps are widely referred to by the term used by the Dutch cartographer and engraver Abraham Ortelius, under Mercator’s influence, in 1570 to describe his collection of maps, the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, as an atlas–the compilation of maps exploited the comparative use of nautical charts to organize a record of cosmographical scope of comprehending the world’s expanse.  But the term is appropriate to describe this codex of maps, since it captures the persuasive ends of presenting a sequence of nautical maps of terrestrial expanse to offer claims of complete geographic coverage.

The world maps showing Africa as surrounded by sea predates by almost a century Portuguese circumnavigation of its cape.  The distinctive world map in the “Laurentian atlas”  clearly suggests the navigability around the continent and passage from the Atlantic ocean to Indian ocean–and considerable knowledge about the shape of Africa for an atlas of eight sheets dated 1351, but probably composed around 1370.  It is difficult to judge whether the map was drawn in its current fashion at that date–a time when few sailing maps extended south of Sierra Leone–or whether the original map of a Genoese chart-maker was redrawn, as some have argued, to comprehend later Portuguese nautical discoveries in the Atlantic and Indian Ocean.  The African coastline in the map included no toponymy on the coastline below Cape Bojador, the southernmost point of most earlier voyages.  Was an earlier chart revised, better to comprehend shifts in terrestrial space, earlier than the Martellus map pictured above, to better incorporate new nautical knowledge by extending the reach of Africa beyond Cape Bojador?


Painted Expansion of Atlas?


The map designed in the format recalling a chart and without any attempt to include indices of measurement or orientation may reflect the considerable interest in routes of trading to the East independent from land-travel. But also staked broader claims as a “world map” of terrestrial coverage in persuasive ways, evident in how it expanded the known limits of the continent to create a new image of inhabited expanse–using the chart as a canvas in ways that reflected some early fifteenth-century interest in assembling a map of the inhabited world.


Medicean Atlas


In place of the format of a nautical chart, the “world map” suggests a bounded expanse and form of distinctly modern appearance that has often disconcerted several readers.  (Charles de la Roncière wondered with bemusement at the prescience “de la forme reelle de l’Afrique avant le periple Portuguais” in the world map.)   It seems to have been redrawn in the fifteenth century to incorporate Portuguese discoveries, to register recent discoveries of alternate rendering of Africa’s distinctly modern form, beyond an ink line that the paint conceals.  Indeed,  no toponyms appear on the map south of Cape Bojador in the Sahara–the southernmost point of most nautical charts–in ways that seem to confirm the imagined form of Africa within the chart.  And the prominent location of  some of the Canary and the Azores in the Atlantic reveal subsequent alteration of the map on the basis of Portuguese charts, as if to update and revise its original form.  The revision of the genre of nautical mapping for new ends of comprehensive terrestrial coverage–in this case, by repainting its very surface–suggests a redesign of familiar formats of charting for new claims of geographic coverage to make a point about terrestrial expanse as the first translations of Ptolemaic treatises advanced a model of cosmographic–as much as cartographical–expertise.

The world map is clearly a compilation of varied forms of knowledge and geographic thought.  Despite the vaunted limitations on geographic knowledge of the later middle ages, this mid-fourteenth century world map reveals a striking synthesis of geographical knowledge to illustrate terrestrial expanse.  The volume seems to purposely compile existing nautical charts in a single volume, in the manner of an atlas, to satisfy demand for a record of global comprehensiveness; this map probably drew on Arab sources for its southward extension of eastern Africa down the Muslim Swahili coast.   Some emendation of the map is evident, moreover, detectable in the competing hands of an upright humanist script and more straggling cursive east of the Caspian Sea.  A nautical chart of Italy immediately follows the world chart in the codex, a map focussing only on its coast to the exclusion of its interior save the most prominent lakes:


ITaly as Nautical Compilation


This portolan chart suggests, however, a distinctly terrestrial subject, as much as a compilation of sea-routes.  And as a synthesis of the sequence of six nautical charts that complete the volume, its collation or compilation of charts is uniquely modern in presenting a comprehensive geographic record.  Its comprehensive view of the continent echoes the early fifteenth-century world map of Albertin de Virga, dated 1411-15, whose totalistic content it precedes in its synthesis of nautical charts to depict the inhabited world’s expanse–and which could have offered a model for its emendation–shortly after the first translation of Ptolemy’s manual of world-mapping in Rome.  Did Ptolemy’s newly translated treatise prompt such an early synthesis of available mapping forms to describe terrestrial–rather than nautical–expanse?




The newly persuasive nature of assembling nautical charts presented something of a canvas to stake global relations.  This world map presented sites for the exchange of meaning, but also a visual laboratory to configure terrestrial space,  transferring coastal lines from portolan charts to prepare open spaces of terrestrial expanse to be surveyed.

We often cast nautical charts as both impressive and regressive in contrast to terrestrial maps, because they leave the interior topographies so bare.  The inclusion of a more detailed African coast from the beautiful Portuguese Dourado portolan charts of the later sixteenth-century, for example, drafted in Goa around 1570, whose thickly-packed toponyms hug the continent’s north-west coast, listing ports and riverine mouths which seem the only areas able to be mapped or of interest.  It leaves the terrestrial interior unknown in ways that recall Joseph Conrad’s alter-ego Marlow, and d his attraction to the unknown African interior  in “The Heart of Darkness.”


Dourado Portolan, NorthWest Africa


The chart reveals something of an incommensurability between a known shoreline of coastal settlement and an interior, that was oddly perpetuated through the 19th century, where its limited notion of terrestrial coverage gained colonialist ends.  For printed maps of the mapping of continent limited to coastal African ports s to emptiness of the mapped interior–without any acknowledgement of local toponomy–in maps created the sort of “large, empty spaces” Marlow claimed to have seen, in maps “from the latest authorities” drafted in London in 1805, or the Lincoln & Edmonds 1819 map of the continent, both of which might have inspired Marlow’s voyage to Colonel Kurtz:

Africa Map 1805 %22From The Latest Authorities%22

Lincoln & Edmonds 1819 Africa Map


But if the chart is seen as a conservative force in world mapping, it was also a fertile tradition of its own.  Indeed, the notation of parallels and meridians in portolan charts popular from the middle of the sixteenth century in Europe suggests a clear concern in mapping new lands as well as encounters with coasts–much because they fit less clearly with mapmakers’ expertise.

This is evident, to switch subjects of cartographical attention, in the mapped image transmitted in Portuguese portolan charts of the coast of Brazil, similarly striking because of how it foregrounds the remove of coastal cities or hydrographic records of the Amazon from knowledge of inhabitation of the continent’s interior.  This nautical chart accommodated the practice of mapping on a graticule of parallels and meridians, even if comparable imaginative license is taken with the topography of the interior.


Duarado Brazil close-up


Indeed, the second of the seventeen maps in this ‘Dourado’ portolan map an interior strikingly similar to the lake on which Sir Walter Ralegh mapped the imagined city of El Dorado on the imaginary Lake Manoa in 1595, as fed by multiple freshwater ingresses; Ralegh’s map reveals less fantasy in projecting the voyage to El Dorado than a recycling of the very sailing charts he consulted in drawing up his plans to sail to Guiana.  A comparison suggests the staying power of the tradition of the Spanish and Portuguese nautical charts Ralegh so frequently consulted to plot his ill-fated expedition to an imagined city he detailed for viewers at the very center of his chart:



Ralegh’s re-use of nautical charts  created something of a laboratory to assemble the means to envision terrestrial expanse in the early fifteenth century Mediterranean world.

The portolan was, in multiple ways, a particularly versatile and inventive form.  It maintained a similar inventiveness across cultures in the Mediterranean, adopted into a tradition of Ottoman mapping through Portuguese prototypes.  Much as the ‘Medici atlas’ suggests a new mapping of the oceanic enclosure of Africa, the re-use of nautical charts for cosmographical ends is evident in the below image of world expanse.  The map was used to illustrate a Renaissance manuscript of the thirteenth-century cosmographer, lawyer and physicians Al-Qazwini’s “Wonders of Creatures and Strangeness of Beings” [Aǧāʾib al-maḫlūqāt wa-ġarāʾib al-mawǧūdāt], also stored in the Biblioteca Laurenziana.  The map below retains conventions like a cinnabar Red Sea sketched below the Holy Land, spider-like lakes and ports crowded inland that seem to perpendicularly hug the shore, the description of tripartite continents of Asia, Europe, and Africa below testify to its terrestrial coverage.  Scattered trees, fill unknown lands and almost random rows of mountainous barriers mark the limits of known Africa–an cosmographical record of  the inhabited three continents of the world Al-Qazwini had described in the tradition of classical geography, rooted in describing terrestrial inhabitations, rather than climactic zones or schematic spatial divisions–notwithstanding the depiction of a bright crimson Red Sea.




Geography meets cosmography in this world map, deriving from nautical charts.  The image of planetary eclipses in the same elegantly illustrated volume suggests a similar cosmographical intent in this deluxe compendium, that echoes the sense of the terrestrial map as a mediation of abstractly purified knowledge, now removed from the craft of the nautical chart-maker’s craft.




The cosmographical scope of the image in the thirteenth-century encyclopedia re-used the format and conventions of nautical charting to make cosmographical claims, similarly to the re-drawing of the Genoese chart in the mid-fifteenth century for making newly comprehensive claims.

Indeed, one can detect something of a similar use of records of nautical charting for cosmographical mapping in the adoption of Portuguese charts in the fragment of a 1513 map that the Atlantic the Ottoman admiral Piri Reis presented to the Ottoman Sultan Selim I in 1517.  The fragment discovered in the shelves of an Istanbul’s  Topkapi palace in 1929, drawn on gazelle parchment, incorporated four Portuguese portolan charts, eight Ptolemaic maps, and some twenty mappae mundi, according to the admiral’s inscription, in a luxurious map of expansive proportions, of which only the sheet depicting the New World and western Africa survives:

Piri Reis

In the decades after its discovery, this map was taken as grounds for grandiose claims about pre-Columban geographic knowledge–claims with limited validity.  For Piri, the map’s surface provided a field to combine an image of global expanse in a complete whole.  He worked, he tells us “from eight Jaferyas of that kind [e.g., Ptolemaic maps, which he dated to the age of Alexander the Great] and one Arabic map of Hind [India], and “from four newly drawn Portuguese maps which show the countries of Sind [Pakistan], Hind and Çin [China] [all] geometrically drawn, and also from a map drawn by Qulūnbū [Columbus] in the western region” or islands of the new world, so that by “reducing all these maps to one scale this final form was arrived at, so that this map of these lands is regarded by seamen as accurate and as reliable as the accuracy and reliability of the Seven Seas.”  He took the testimony of seamen as the standard of trust, but the value of a format “geometrically drawn” suggested both its comprehensive and cosmographical value–a main purpose, no doubt, of the presentation map given as a luxury book to Sultan Selim I–making it all the more quixotic that the director of the palace library, Halil Edhem, handed it over amidst a bundle of discarded materials to  Gustav Adolf Deissmann when Deissamn searched for non-Islamic material in the Topkapi.  (So suggestive is the map’s situation of islands and accumulation of detailed coastal promontories that it was taken as grounds for a lost “pre-classical” culture of mariners familiar with Antarctica for Charles Hapgood or of the mathematical calculation an azimuthal projections made with active extra-terrestrial assistance by Eric von Däniken from a spaceship located above Cairo; theories that misread the map as an actual projection had little basis, but are nicely rebuked by the cogent case made for its nautical origins on the Turkish 10 million lira banknote.


(The fragment of a lost manuscript map depicted to the left gained such wide traction precisely because of its elegant  argument for ordering the known regions of the world.)

The nautical chart provided by its very open-ness a basis to expand a canvas of the inhabited world before conventions of map projection insisted on the world’s bounded nature.  The flexibility of the format allowed the assimilation of a varied range of sources and authorities–from Marco Polo to Ibn Battuta, as it were.  We can appreciate the open-ness that the re-use of nautical charts as canvases in contrast to the very different nature of the world map in another manuscript of Al Qazwini’s treatise, now in the National Library of Medicine, painted in around  1537  by unknown illuminators in western India.  The map is far more schematic–if not traditional–form, removed from the tradition of charting:  the image of the world is replete with marine sinuses and undulating rivers that link bubble-like lakes, with a bulbous Horn of Africa pointing to the overlapping waves in the oceanic expanse of the Arabian sea.

al qwazwini  1537 w india


The vitality of a manuscript tradition of mapping provided something of a laboratory for the material re-imagining of an earthly space in which increasing physical details were readily inscribed.

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Filed under Africa is a Continent, Mappaemundi, Mapping Africa, mapping the ecumene, Nautical Charts, portolan charts, protocols of mapping

Mapping the New World from France: Savages, Vegetables, Animals, Pelts

We often can’t detect traces of cartographers in their maps.  Yet Samuel de Champlain left multiple clues concerning his new world encounters the maps of New France printed between 1612 to 1632 in Paris.  Champlain’s experiences are not encrypted in emblems, moreover, but explicitly recorded in his depiction of a territory whose rivers he opened for navigation and commerce through a set of maps printed in Paris, as well as by actions as a proxy of the French realm.

Champlain mapped the interior of New France as Hydrographer Royal shortly after he gained the charge to secure trading rights in New France from about 1602, which led to some twelve sojourns in the New World from 1603-35.  His encounters are not only noted but prepared for a French audience of readers in his maps:  and while Champlain is cast as an explorer, so much as tracking his own exploration of the region, the multiple maps he designed and printed in Paris staged graphically dense appeals for the New World’s settlement, not only marking outposts of French settlement, but investing value in a region earlier described as “frozen wilderness” as a land of viable trading partners, rich in beaver and otter pelts, cod, and fruits–mapping the New World, as it were, from France.  Whereas the prolific cartographer Giacomo Gastaldi had provided the earliest qualitative map of the region of the “Terra del Labrador” and “La Nuova Francia” in 1556, synthesizing nautical maps probably made from those of Jacques Cartier with rich qualitative details of the region an its inhabitants, as well as its plenitude of marine fish, the abundance of islands and crisscrossing rivers suggested a need for navigating by canoes, more than an outpost of easy nautical approach, but a richly peopled region.


1556 Gastaldi Nuova Francia


When Champlain returned to the region Jacques Cartier had more cursorily mapped in his 1545 “nauigation faicte es ysles de Canada, Hochelaga, et Saguenay” by expanding the account in Cartier’s Brief recit & succincte narration of his travels up the river, using the toponyms known to Europeans through Cartier’s account, to expand detailed cartographical canvasses  whose rationales for its settlement were adopted by missionaries to make their own arguments of conversion.  As he travelled on what we know call the St. Lawrence, for Champlain “la riviere de Canada,” he incorporated native Amerindian accounts to map the resources of New France.  Champlain’s hidden need was to present both an image of Amerindians as potential trading partners, and to present an image of the territories as open to future settlement that expanded the manuscript journals of Cartier, themselves published in 1598, unlike the wild regions Cartier had earlier so evocatively described.


Vallard Atlas extract on hung


Champlain presented himself as an intermediary to the New World, echoing his Old Testament given name of a prophet, visionary and seer, called by God to be an advisor to Kings; the image of a prophet who advised the nation fit the role Champlain styled himself as an intermediary of judging areas of potential trade in the New World.  From the time he served as a captain of a Spanish ship to “Porto Rico,” Mexico, Colombia, the Bermudas (Santo Domingo) and Panama to the persuasive images of regions that he mapped for French settlement from 1603–travels described in his 1604 “Des Sauvages: ou voyage de Samuel Champlain, de Brouages, faite en la France nouvelle l’an 1603 [Concerning the Primitives: Or Travels of Samuel Champlain of Brouages, Made in New France in the Year 1603].  Although the title was probably chosen by the printer, as perhaps the name New France, the term for the Amerindians colored the reception and diffusion of the “Sauvage,” a term later invested with connotations of absolute difference so that by the mid-seventeenth-century Jesuits as Allouez asserted Europeans doubted the ability to convert Amerindians to true Christians.

The evocative title that the printer gave to Champlain’s account of his encounters  transformed the search for natural resources conducted after the governor of Dieppe, Aymar de Chaste, asked the Royal Hydrographer to help expand his monopoly on the fur trade at the trading post of Tadoussac, based on Cartier’s accounts, and then, after de Chaste’s death, from 1604-7, plan the settlement of Acadia to make good on its Governor’s patent on trading rights.

Whereas the Vallard atlas offered an inviting illustration of the benefits of settlement along the riverine network with potential Amerindian trading partners, Champlain’s maps of 1604, 1608, and 1638 compiled convincing arguments for the logic of New France’s settlement, based both on the Dictionary that Cartier had compiled and the even more intense engagement of native Amerindians that he believed would both secure a monopoly in the fur trade and, as he sought to learn from them a convincing route and, after his 1612 commission, to “search for a free passage by which to reach the country called China.”  The potential of such a route had been long advanced in the Ortelian 1570 “Typus Orbis Terrarum,” but was not cartographically realized, as the interior of “Nova Francia” was left unmapped beyond Cartier’s account, through the de Jode map of 1589.



Ortelius' Nove Francia


Terra Incognita, de Jode


Champlain was trained as a nautical cartographer, but unlike the pictorial maps prepared from nautical charts in the French Dieppe school, whose pictorial images attracted nautical exploration in ways I’ve discussed, Champlain’s printed maps invited a French readers to examine a region about which there was particular curiosity.  The chorography of New France that Champlain prepared as hydrographer to Henri IV  detailed not both a less imagined view of the region’s topography and navigability, and mapped the inhabitants of  North America with considerable care:  in his map, Champlain combined both his own surveys and charts with knowledge of the region’s inhabitants and habitation gathered from native Innu peoples who lived there–known by Champlain as the Montaignais and Etechimani–whose inhabitation of the region was poorly mapped and previously “unknown.”

Champlain’s map made the land New France, although the title that he chose for his book “voyages en France nouvelle” of 1608 seems to have been chosen, as its discussion of “Sauvages,” by a publisher, in ways that led the map to refract more meanings than Champlain might have understood–and quite soon after its appearance beyond the charge to open the St. Lawrence valley for French settlement.


map new franceb


Yet if the title of the book, not surviving in editions with the map that seems intended to accompany it, he was clearly fascinated by native cultures, only later linking the “Sauvage” to the pagan, and believe in transforming Amerindians through Catholic conversion and intermarriage with the French in ways that were probably informed by his increased contact with and dependence on missionaries by the 1630s.

In the map of New France he had engraved in 1612, an expansive chorographical or regional map of New France, detailed the coasts of islands that he had first travelled among extensively along its coast and the riverine network to the Great Lakes he first saw or described–and whose path Champlain pursued to gain the most complete monopoly of the fur trade, rather than the search for silver and gold that the French king hoped to pursue, which increasingly come to subsidize his expeditions.  In shifting the mapping of New France from a tradition of nautical charting to the medium of terrestrial mapping, Champlain both gave his maps richly ethnographic material functions that allowed him to stage broader arguments for the region’s future exploration, even as he continued to raise the possibility and promise of mapping routes of trade to the east by a Northwest passage.

The engraved regional map of New France detailed the coasts of islands that he had first travelled among extensively along its coast and the riverine network to the Great Lakes he first saw or described as he sought to gain advantages in the fur trade.  The current exhibit Moving with the River organized at Ottawa’s Museum of Civilization examines the role played by the St. Lawrence River in Canadian identity from its place as an avenue of Champlain’s contact and alliance with native peoples.  Yet the maps Champlain made for French readers pivot from nautical maps of coasts of Acadia and Newfoundland, to parlay skills of mapping developed on the west coast of France and in voyages to the Indies, to exploiting the legibility terrestrial map-making to chart future ties of trade and eventual intermarriage of peoples.

His expansive maps of the region and its inhabitants shifted his brief from mapping sites of settlement in New France to mapping inland avenues for trade on a web of rivers and lakes.  The maps demand specific attention, in other words, for how they provided a compelling record of the region for French readers by introducing them to it alternately as a site for potential settlement, commerce, and conversion–combining the ends of mapping and combining several formats of mapping that had often been previously held distinct competencies or forms of expertise and subject-matter.  In an almost improvisational way, Champlain was adapting his mapping techniques for new audiences that the printed maps might address.  Whereas Champlain’s initial project of nautical mapping echoed a conception of Canada voiced Marguerite of Navarre, who saw “Canada” as an island (and possible obstacle to voyage to the orient), the engravings that he provided during his many trips to the region re-mapped an image of the region as an area of trade and settlement, embodying a network of routes of trade around where he founded the first French cities in the New World.

The map that he designed in 1608 redefined French readers’ relation to the New World in a magisterial synthesis of nautical and terrestrial cartography, bridging charting and surveying to map the mouth of the river that Cartier had earlier entered to the inland region known as the Great Lakes that would be so profitable for fur trading, after he concluded a lasting peace with native tribes to allow French settlement.

The map suggests a new sense of having mapped lasting peace in New France.  A lower left cartouche conspicuously mapped the inhabitants of the region from whom Champlain he was asked to make a treaty with and from whom he learned so much.  Champlain not only conducted peace with the Montaignais, but relied on native accounts to map much of the Great Lakes–trusting Algonquin accounts of the upper St. Lawrence and eastern Great Lakes, openly seeking them out to map of the region from Lake Ontario to Lake Erie, and mapping its imagined relation to a great saltwater sea.  Although it is doubtful he traveled beyond the current site of Montreal on the St. Lawrence, where he began to write his text–but amplified the map beyond where he had traveled by incorporating Algonquin accounts obtained in 1603–the imagined expanse of New France created a New World with the hint of the promise of a North-West passage, and ample evidence of trading partners along the river’s path.


map new franceb


Champlain’s printed account of 1608 consciously exploited the term of “Sauvages” or ‘forest-dwellers’ popularized by the arrival at the royal French court of native North Americans.  The term was not derogatory, but described the forest-dwellers who since an alliance of 1602 had helped orient himself in the region, and whose considerable attention after their visit to the royal court increased the interest in the work he prepared at just short of thirty years, Des Sauvages: ou voyage de Samuel Champlain, de Brouages, faite en la France nouvelle l’an 1603 [“Concerning the Primitives: Or Travels of Samuel Champlain of Brouages, Made in New France in the Year 1603“].  Indeed, the term–if introduced by his publisher, advertised his status as a privileged informant, more than a map-maker, that echoed his first post aiding a secret agent and  member of the royal household in Brittany.

Champlain styled himself as a principal informant about New World life for the French public.  At roughly the same time Native Peoples arrived at Henry IV’s court and piqued interest in “Sauvages” among court figures, the striking title capitalized on wide curiosity in the figure of the New World Native, rather than as a derogatory term, in ways that opened the map to further readings as a site of conversion and commerce alike, calling the natives likely to welcome Catholic colonizers from France for the order that they would provide, and concepts of prayer they would introduce, even if “most of them live like brute beasts” (1603:  117) and often in ritual dances “stripped themselves stark naked” (1603: 107-8; 180).  Champlain wrote admiringly of their government, costumes, nautical knowledge and bravery, offering that “I hold that they would quickly become good Christians if their lands were colonized [je tiens que qui leur monstreroit à vivre & enseigner le labourage des terres, & autres choses, ils l’apprendroient fort bien],” his work would in ways provoke debates about the possibility of conversion for Jesuits, and about the limits of converting, civilizing or “Frenchifying [franciser]” Amerindian natives.  When Champlain sought to teach Amerindians the nature of a beneficent God and the efficacy of prayer to Amerindians, he presented their absence of religious ceremonies as akin to their absence of law , but did not see why this could be changed:  “You see why I believe they have no laws, nor know what it means to worship and pray to God [je croy qu’il n’y a aucune loy parmy eux, ne sçavent que c’est d’adorer & prier Deu],” he wrote; yet “I believe that they would be quickly brought round to being Good Christians if their lands were colonized, which they might well mostly desire [croy que promptement ils seroient reduicts bons Chretiens si l’on habitoit leurs terres, ce qui’ils desireroient la plus part].”  (Only later, among debates between the limits of conversion to French customs among Recollect and Jesuit missionaries, did the notion of a “sauvage” become associated with a pagan.)

Champlain’s richly ethnographic account provided little sense of natives’ nobility, but his images of these warriors–the Montaignais had encouraged the French to be their allies against the Iroquois–reflected in his sustained interest in “their countries . . . and forms of assembly,” as well as their songs, clothing, hunting practices, food, tobacco, and snowshoes, as well as hairstyles, public oratory and dance-steps.

Champlain’s dependence on native accounts of the region led to his expansion of ties with natives on the Saguenay River that Cartier had earlier encountered.  Indeed, in 1602 Champlain concluded a treaty or peace with the natives that he called the Montaignais, native Americans on the St. Lawrence’s shoreline and Labrador and Quebec and those he called the Etchemin [Maliseet], and later the Algonquin, admiring the superior quality of their furs to those he had seen in the future Nova Scotia; Henri II eagerly founded the Acadia and Canada Company and granted it a monopoly on the fur trade which Champlain was to help protect.  The map recorded to some extent the longest-standing alliance Europeans created with Natives–or “sauvages,” as he put it–to that point, much as Champlain himself discussed their “nations” and treated their leaders as heads of state.  The “sauvages” who Champlain had ‘tamed’ were displayed in the map, as something of a token of what he saw as his accomplishment:  it seems that two of these peoples had returned from France while as he was in Tadoussac, increasing the possibility of the alliance, as did a treaty against their Iroquois enemies–dragging the French into a conflict lasting through the eighteenth century.

For Champlain, the engraved map was a complex and subtle register to mediate his encounter with New World, unlike the pictorialized charts of the Dieppe school before Champlain’s birth that rendered natives hunts such as the  “Vallard” atlas.

Harleian Map c. 1542-44


Although the atlases of the Dieppe school, as Vallard atlas above from the Huntington, or the Harleian Map, presented enticing images of natives along green river-banks, attempting to attract interest in their settlement through images of peaceful relations with local inhabitants Champlain’s maps promoted the settlement of a region poorly known to Europeans still “Terra Incognita” as late as 1589, if contiguous with New France, as in this Dutch map of Cornelis de Jode, one of the competitors with the French in the potentially lucrative fur trade, as well as in the charts of Nicolas Nicolai’s Isolario for Henri II.


Terra Incognita:AMerica


The map Champlain drafted of the interior contrasted strongly to the routes of potential Atlantic trade that Nicolas Nicolai, predecessor as royal hydrographer for Henri II, created to foreground routes of potential trade, which plotted routes to North America in his Isolario and 1548 Navigazioni del mondo novo, reprinted through the late 1560s, whose paucity of detail revealed limited knowledge of the Montaignais at the mouth of the Saguenay and only vague knowledge of anything about the land through with the river’s course runs, and focus on the Indies as a locus of trade, limiting New France to the mouth of the St. Lawrence.



ca 1565 gastaldi map


In the series of maps that he made which provide something of his increased encounters with New World natives, and search for new potential trading partners, Champlain shifted his sights dramatically to the unknown rivers of the interior that he explored not by ship–as he was familiar from his first voyages of 1598, but by canoe.  After several natives the French knew as the Montaignais or “mountain-people” had travelled to the French court of Henry IV, popularizing the term–and category–Champlain adopted the term of New World curiosities as subjects worthy of description and mediation in a map.

The geographic and ethnographic detail in Champlain’s map of 1608 reflect not only curiosity with the figure of the “Sauvage,” but Champlain’s decisive engagement in tribal disputes in attempting to secure fur trading rights–as well as rivers’ course.  The map reflected not only the considerable inter-breeding of French settlers and fishermen with the nomadic natives they called “mountain-men” or mountaineers because of their knowledge of the hills at the mouth of the St. Lawrence, and since the contact promised further knowledge of the region. Rather than follow the precedent of nautical map, familiar in from the picturesque images of “Canada” in the manuscript atlases of the Dieppe school whose pictorial images had promoted the material benefits nautical exploration from the time of Champlain’s childhood, or maps of the New World that first circulated in engraved in France.  Unlike these maps, Champlain’s maps situated the Atlantic islands around modern Nova Scotia and the Bay of Fundy on meridians in ways that gave a material presence to the northern expanses of North America to Hudson Bay and past Lake Ontario, in ways that offered readers a material record of geographic fixity as well as documenting the goods, mapping both products and routes for future mercantile expansion in the New World for which Henry IV was so desirous, by placing its inhabitants as crucial figures who might both be converted to Catholicism and be active partners in colonial trade.  (The legend continued far after the settlement of Canada:  Claude Levi-Strauss remembered in Tristes Tropiques that an older Frenchmen described the Nambikwara as “sauvages“–and never otherwise—as if “on l’eût cru débarqué en quelque Canada, aux côtés de Cartier ou de Champlain.”  Levi-Strauss may have made a similar connection in contemplating their “sauvagerie” when describing his arrival at a land “as large as France and three-quarters unexplored,” by filled with nomadic indigenous peoples.)

Although Champlain’s first mission as Royal Hydrographer seemed to have been to establish a permanent seat of settlement for France in the New World, his maps both lent greater fixity to place; if Cosgrove suggested that the “geographic indeterminacy [of islands] also increased their imaginative resonance,” Champlain’s New France supplanted the colored islands on the edges of earlier world maps with newly determined coordinates.  Indeed, he noted routes of trade and objects of interest with far more restraint than the abundance of fantastic creatures in marine maps of northern seas like the chart that the Swedish patriot and priest Olaus Magnus drafted as a comprehensive visual geographic history of Scandinavia and surrounding waters in 1538, with Roman artisans, as a graphic register of the arctic seas.


Carta Marina


The maps printed in Paris that traced Champlain’s explorations of North America for French readers mirrored a shift from a nautical network of travel around the coasts of Newfoundland and the present Nova Scotia, where he founded the first French cities in the New World of Port-Royal and St.-Croixe as outposts of trade in minerals or furs.

Champlain (1604-1607)

The terrestrial maps that Champlain would later design reflect a shift form a network of routes of nautical travel, seeking to found outposts for trading ports in the New World, to a search for inland connections to new networks of trade in furs to secure the monopoly on the fur trade that Jacque Cartier described:  a position from which he sought to both better understand and present a convincing picture of a network of trade in the interior.  After years spent mapping possible seats of France’s first city or entrepot in the New World in Acadia, Maine, the Bay of Fundy, and even down to Cape Cod, Champlain had returned to France to print the map–the precursor of subsequent printed maps of 1612, 1631 and 1638, each of which seems to punctuate twenty-one voyages Champlain made to the New World–and turned his attention to the interior, a decision that probably encouraged him to decide to attract Jesuit missionaries  from 1614 to help establish colonies in New France.

Champlain’s terrestrial maps of 1608, 1613 and 1637 present gradual  syntheses of the assiduous reconnaissance in a New World he visited over in twenty voyages, each giving greater materiality to the project of exploring and settling New France.  The intense return to map-making suggests a new attempt to define the primacy of a Francophone version of the medium of maps, as well as to seek increased funding and support of his own voyages and contact with natives in the New World.  If Champlain was indeed raised as a Huguenot, as suggested in archival research of baptismal records which place his family in La Rochelle, it is striking that his detailed map distinctly privileged the legibility of the New World more than the maps he drew on the basis of his earlier voyages to the Barbadoes and Indies as commander of a Spanish ship:  the detailed prospect that they presented for exploring lines of contact with Natives placed him among the Huguenot ministers Henri IV cultivated to develop his kingdom’s economy and infrastructure, but to do so in the new setting of New France, much as the Sieur de Monts, a Calvinist, had been granted the rights to the territory of Acadia (Nova Scotia), by Henri IV, “to cultivate, to cause to be peopled, and to search for gold and silver mines from the forty-sixth to the fortieth degree North latitude,” despite his Calvinism–enjoining him to teach Catholicism to the Micmac natives.  (It also placed him in a coterie of suspected reformists who include Ortelius, among those who stressed the transparency of the map as a printed text.)  The religious background of Champlain may be striking, given his close cooperation with Jesuits and other orders, but seems echoed his sailing with Récollet missionaries in 1615, a small group of reformed Friars Minor repressed in the French Revolution, who arrived in Quebec City, and only later with Jesuit missions in Acadia and in Ontario and Quebec from 1609.  (The Récollet were far more hopeful of introducing French customs to Amerindians than their Jesuits brethren.)

The image of New World natives indeed strongly contrast to the striking image he had earlier described, when sailing to Santo Domingo as commander of a Spanish ship, of the horrors of witnessing burning of unconverted natives–no doubt a scene that haunted him–and provided a model for cultivating new models of exchange in New France.


Inquisition in Champlain's MS from Journal JCB


The stunning and particularly striking image from the Brief Discours documented the torture of natives who did not convert to Catholicism at the hands of the Spanish, “Indians Burned by the Inquisition,” must have stuck in Champlain’s mind as an opposition of pagan and European–he argued the “evil treatment” that caused Indians to flee to the hills at the Spaniards’ approach, he noted in a manuscript in collections of the John Carter Brown Library.  In contrast, existing intermarriage among natives and French sailors created less of a duality of otherness if not a greater appreciation of cultural difference.

The 1598-1601 manuscript “Breif discours” about his travels to the Indies included a prized description of the local dragons that Champlain described as indigenous to the region, as Susan Danforth of the John Carter Brown has also noted, whose care reveals his deep attention to preserving a record based most likely on native accounts–“dragons of strange shape, having a head approaching to that of an eagle, wings like a bat, a body like a lizard and only two rather large feet, the tail somewhat scaly” who are in appearance “as large as a sheep, but not dangerous, and do no harm to anybody, though to see them one would say the contrary.”  While Champlain probably did not see these dragons, pictured in his manuscript below, they were a central to his description, and his care at their description echoed the interest in fantastic creatures in the New World, which later informed his later striking descriptions of the Gougou in the Bay of Chaleur, a “terrible monster” male but “in the form of a woman, but very frightful, and so large that the masts of a sailing vessel would not reach [her] waist” which “possessed pockets” on her body where the Gougou stored its captives before eating them.




If his account is only slightly incredible, Champlain similarly trusted his native informants accounts of the Gougou, from whom several natives told him of their escape, and others of having heard the Gougou’s “horrible noises” as they passed by its home:  “What makes me believe what they say,” Champlain wrote, “is the fact that all the savages fear it, and tell such strange things about it that if I were to record all they say it would be regarded as a myth; but I hold that this is the dwelling place of some devil that torments them”–translating the legend into a Christian cosmology, as much as in credulous tones.  He did not draw the Gougou in his maps, but readily included information from a range of local informants.

Although Champlain’s continued dependence on native informants, including the Montaignais and Etechemani, depicted in the 1608 map as we have seen.  Their relation to the French were no doubt closer than many may have realized:  members of these tribes who allied with the French increasingly may have intermarried with French settlers, becoming the first New World allies of French after their decisive conclusion of peace in 1603–described in the Museum of Civilization as the first durable peace with New World natives.  The treaty must have blurred such clear oppositions among natives brooked by earlier cartographers, if they did not explicitly return to the map as collaborators or co-authors if not guides.  His subsequent dependence on native informants may have further encouraged by the intermarriage of Montaignais and Etechemani, the New World allies of French from 1603, with traders and sailors, and led Champlain to dignify them as noble warriors–and to study their arts of oratory, politics, and political order, as well as their dress.  The cartouche blurred such clear oppositions, increasing the subjectivity of these warriors more as objects of curiosity than as collaborators or co-authors of his maps.


Figures des montaignais


Indeed, they suggest Champlain’s hope to pursue a lucrative trade in furs that Cartier hoped to secure.  For Champlain, the map was a complex and subtle register to mediate his own encounter with New World.  Indeed, the rich detail of the maps of the Dieppe school, like the fantastic maps of mountains of Nutmeg and Cinnamon in the imaginary continent of Java la Grande conjured in maps of the Dieppe school–discussed in an earlier post–may have lead Champlain to promote equivalent trading routes, and map the imagined wealth of trade routes that would nurture an imagined French empire, and  to place images of sought-after beavers and otters which populate the surface of he prepared in his 1612 map.

map new franceb

Similar dreams of trade motivated the creation of these promotional atlases to win sponsorship and support of future voyages, to an extent realized when Champlain gained far more extensive privileges and support to expand the fur trade.  The engraved maps Champlain composed during over twenty voyages to the New World turn attention from the charting of routes of sea-travel where France might establish a seat of maritime investigation to upriver trade on what is now the St. Lawrence or “rivière de Canada.”

His Travels in 1613

His maps from 1613 most always were left rivers as the St. Lawrence and Hudson Bay conveniently open-ended, as if to suggest the possibility of linking areas of trade and bodies of water by transcontinental navigation along a North-West passage that responded to his charge, and secured further voyages in the New World he increasingly adopted as his charge and of which he became raconteur and rapporteur.  In seeking to establish trade with native peoples led him to travel for reasons of commerce, as much as exploration, he charted advantageous sites for dominating the fur-trade from the Saguenay to the St. Lawrence, and inland to the  lakes later named the Huron, Erie and Ontario, of which he learned from Native informants, encountering natives on the great river who remembered Cartier’s arrival and capture of their chief almost seventy years earlier but were eager to cultivate trading ties, choosing the city of Stadacona as a center of trade and describing its lands as uninhabited.  Champlain’s far more expansive map of 1613 presented a comprehensive case for joining the nautical exploration of the shores, with their rich marine fish, to travels into the interior, with its rich traffic in beaver pelts, on an accurate meridian; it also prefigured Champlain would continued to seek greater trading routes in the interior after his 1615 journeys to the Hudson Bay, even if he discovered the ruse of a direct route to Cathay, traveling up the Ottawa River to Lake Nipissing and the Georgian Bay in Lake Huron, and crossing Lake Ontario–regions that his 1608 map show as open for settlement, minimizing the local presence of native nomadic tribes.

The alliance that Champlain formed with Montaignais and Etchemin [Algonquin] tribes from provided a turning point in introducing native informants into maps of New France, and indeed in the mapping of New France as a community open to French trade.   When Champlain turned up the St. Lawrence to gain dominance in the pelt trade from the Dutch and English, he depended on Native guides.  He had admired the Iroquois for their navigational skills–he relied on the sailing skills he had learned in France’s coast.  But as he increasingly dedicated himself to inland mapping for possible commerce routes, focussing on the riverine paths that he would open to trading for fur pelts, exploring what would be the St. Lawrence and its tributaries, traveling upriver to found the city of Montreal.  There is some evidence of how Champlain relied increasingly on native interlocutors to determine place-names in his map; his subsequent founding of Ottawa–perhaps as his sites had shifted.

The more expansive and detailed 1618 map of New France, meant to accompany an account in his 1619 Voyages of his travails and unsuccessful battles against native peoples while attempting to discover a Northwest Passage that obsessed him from 1615, and provide a tantalizing teaser of potential routes to continue to explore, as much as it describes a region which he had become such a primary informant.  The map printed in 1619 in Paris staked out an argument for continuing to fund his successive voyages not only of exploration but of potential commerce, leaving open much of the possibility of arriving at a route to the Orient and China across polar ice as a hint of future riches that he wanted to pursue.  Champlain’s 1619 “La Nouvelle France,” engraved in Paris, narrated his own exploration of the region in detail through 1618, now focussing on his travails in the course of exploration; the Voyages describe unsuccessful battles with Native Americans as a tale of frustration and self-sacrifice in enlarging the surface of the map for French readers at a new stage in their mission of settling the New World.

Whereas Champlain had charted French towns on the coasts of his first voyages of 1598 and 1602 with Francophone toponyms as Port Royal in the current Prince Edward Country or Sante-Croix between 1604 and 1605, the maps mirror his decisive move inland and engage native inhabitants and guides in founding cities from Quebec in the voyage of 1608. And in later periods, Champlain engage the Iroquois at Lake Champlain in 1619 to modern Montreal and Ottawa in his later travels with the Huron guides to lake Ontario of 1615, meeting the “Cheveaux-Relevés” (Odawa), whose painted and pierced faces Champlain noted, as he offered their chief a hatchet in exchange for a map drawn on tree-bark with charcoal of the expanse of the region around the Georgian Bay (III: 43-5), in what they took as a symbol of their future alliance, most likely, rather than the securing of a new trade route.

The title and inclusion of a topical notion of cartography Champlain practiced in this ‘chorography’ of New France contrast with the abstract universalist perspective associated with early modern maps.  It is interesting to observe some connections between Champlain’s own ethnographic perspective in the charts drawn when had sailed to the Indies and Santo Domingo, serving commander as a ship of his uncle which was leased for a voyage to the “Indies” in 1599-1600, and whose “Brief discours” provided a model he expanded upon in the far more extensive geographic cartographies he executed of New France for the French King.  While the map of Santo Domingo recalls a book of islands, the mapping of New France suggests less a bound area of trade, so much as a region of continued engagement.

Champlain Santo Domingo

There is another continuity with the maps he drew of the Indies in the late sixteenth century.  Each provided a detailed account of the economic advantages of each site he explored–including the notation of the suitability of copper mines or existence of gold–revealing their deep reliance on a material culture of New World goods, as in this rendering of the Cassava.

Champlain Cassava

Champlain famously even included a rendering of a New World dragon–boasting it was completely harmless despite its appearance, as if to create interest in the beast–indicating what would be a longstanding curiosity in recording foreign fruits or animals in naturalistic detail.   Champlain’s work reflects keen interest both in the marketing of New World goods–copper mines or the availability of gold; beaver pelts; marine seals; horseshoe-crabs–and a sites of raspberries or cod, potential products of economic value, if not curiosities that demonstrated knowledge of the terrain.  In the cartouche in the lower boundary of his 1608 map of New France, appear images of almost botanical naturalism for readers hungry for pictorial detail on natural curiosities and material goods:


Fruits and Veggies from New France


Champlain’s maps of the Bay of Fundy and eastern seaboard, drawn as he searched for sites of potential cities in three years of intense chart-making along the Atlantic coast in Acadia, and sailing from Cape Cod to Maine, and before his later voyages turned from nautical to terrestrial cartography, tracing the inland riverine paths, were long focussed on regions that the French crown determined were of economic interest.   The equation of the ‘voyage’ with ‘the savage’ raises multiple questions, however, as much as reveal his skills of terrestrial hydrography, both about the medium of the map, and the roles maps played between travel literature and a concerted program to promote New World trade for which France was eager.

The Royal Hydrographer engaged an established model for mapping in print by noting the rivers that created an area of future commerce and trading in mapping New France.  In the same year that Bougereau’s Le Theatre francoys (1594) delineated hydrographic routes of travel and the borders of the principal fluvial basins, for readers, demonstrating courses of travel and commerce as sources of the country’s nourishment and “natural ornament” by its detailed hydrography, which had challenged both royal cartographers as Jolivet or the valet de chambre et geographe ordinaire de roi in his surveys of the Bourbonnais, and to encompass the hydrographic network that united regions of trade so important to Henry IV and his ministers, and may have led Louis XIV from 1665 to later fund the construction of a Canal du Midi linking the Atlantic and Mediterranean.  Bougereau’s maps already focussed on the network of commerce that rivers enabled in the realm as they knit together regions whose inhabitants were bitterly divided by confessions:


Bougereau Langue d'Oc


If Oronce Finé, Nicolas and Bougeraux sought to create a united chorographic image of the religiously divided nation, as Peters has argued in Mapping Discord, their precedents of hydrographic mapping certainly created a dynamic charge for crafting a chorography of the  French presence in the New World.  If rivers and fluvial networks were the central focus of the more detailed chorographic images that royal cartographers delineated in France, the river as a source of trade and network of exploration among native nomadic tribes was thematized in Champlain’s maps.  Indeed, the river became the central vehicle of transport and terrestrial portage, as Champlain and a small body of French men adopted the vehicle of the canoe to move from Tadoussec, the major post for previous fur-trading, and Quebec, the city he had founded in the 1608 voyage, moving inland after obtaining the charge to “search for a free passage by which to reach the country called China” that he had gained in 1612.

Champlain was convinced in the form of a Northern Sea, probably based on responses from Native guides to his questions about the river’s paths and its relation to the great salt-water body that they described.  His attempts to seek protection of trade routes led to increased siding with Huron and Algonquin natives against the Iroquois, traveling up the St. Lawrence by boat and abandoning his large ships to move to native-made canoes from 1613, traveling in the Great Lakes and up what is now the Ottawa River, reaching the Georgian Bay using native crafts of canoes to cross the network of rivers and lakes, and by 1615 traveling up the Oneida River.

The notion of such a passage was already retained in Dutch global maps by de Jode, pictured below, but the inland route he hoped to obtain promised a more advantageous and direct route–much as Mercator, relying on Cartier, had drawn the Saguenay and St. Lawrence as extending to a freshwater body–“hic mare est dulcium aquarium, cujus terminum ignorari Canadenses ex relatu Saguenaiensium aiunt“–whose end was unknown to the natives on the Saguenay; Ortelius had showed the great lakes as extending to the Arctic Sea.

As Champlain came to trade with Huron, Algonquin, and Montagnais, he responded to their appeals to fight against the Iriquois in ways that expanded the charge he had gained to broker piece in 1612 Charter to become enmeshed in local conflicts, using gun-fire at the same time as he confronted the warrior skills of provoked Iroquois.  The images that he drafted reveal an even greater level of violence to other images of the New World, dramatically documenting his immersion within local conflicts, as this description of resisting the attacks of Iriquois in 1608 printed in 1613; the image of Champlain holding his firearms against the Iroquois cast natives in a positive as allies, and placed Champlain in a heroic pose in a rare surviving image.



The native bows and canoes echoed images of Staden’s encounter in his popular travelogue, yet the far more sophisticated attention to their dress and customs reveal Champlain’s attention to their culture and society to a far greater extent, evident in the attention to the Algonquin in his writings of 1615-17, pictured below Staden’s earlier woodcut images:

violence tupinamba staden

17 bis  Algonquin indians 1615-17 by Champlain


The detailed attention to the particulars of their costume and dress, formal postures, and family structures provided a detailed map of their society as befit allies he cultivated for the French monarchy, and whom he would increasingly depend upon as he continued to seek new routes to expand French settlement inland along the region’s rivers–as well as to seek a pathway to arriving at the Pacific through the frozen waters of the north.  (Levi Strauss must have seen Champlain, indeed, as a sort of model for ethnographic observation, even if he attributed an elder Frenchman’s distaste for the Nambikwara to echoing Champlain’s remove from the customs of “les sauvages.”)

The map Champlain compiled by 1613 mapped his travels adopted the criteria of proof long applied to terrestrial maps , accurate meridians, and the emblems of his craft as cartographer–a surveyor’s compass and scale bar–which overshadowed the rhumb lines of charts, and reflected his new interest in a northern bay.  The northwest passage that became the prime object of his 1615 westward journey in the map he made of his voyages in 1616, which, though not included in his 1619 Voyages, provided a convincing record of an open path to the north or northwest passage for which he had so assiduously searched, seems to have been encouraged by the natives from whom he sought increased assistance, and who provided him with the materials for an expanded trade that funded his successive New World voyages.

Champlain ms map La Nouvelle France 1616, pre Voyages 1619

Champlain maps his Voyages on a true meridian

These maps of the Hudson Bay, region of Ontario, and great rivers across New France stand in contrast to the form of isolari, even as they borrow from them in showing the islands that cluster around the coast of New France.   As he travelled inland on the St. Lawrence to the site of Quebec, the town of Champlain boasted in his journal with the zeal of the European that “all this lovely area was uninhabited,” as its residents had fled before the arrival of the French, and conveniently “abandoned it for fear of Iroquois raiders.”  So it is not, perhaps, surprising, that the savages assumed a primary role in the marketing of this book, as did images of the same native peoples appear banished from the surface of Champlain’s maps of 1602 or 1613:  the maps lacked inhabitants, and provided a sort of advertisement for future sites of trading posts with Francophone Catholic names, in contrast to the 1638 map’s display of Native settlements and “nations” or “petites nations,” and detailed images of the Algonquin and their customs, dress, and families.


champlains map %22Des Sauvages-  ou voyage de Samuel Champlain, de Brouages, faite en la France novelle l'an 1603%22

Golfe de l'homme

So much was probably what viewers had come to expect from a map of the New World–as well as because of the fact that the importance of securing the fur trade from the early 17th century led the French to enter into a longtime war between Native Peoples in the hopes to protect trading routes.  The more expansive and elegant “Carte Geographique de la Nouvelle France par le Sieur de Champlain, . . . Cappitaine Ordinaire Pour le Roy en la Marine” of 1612 would also banish most all of the native inhabitants from the territory it depicted, as if to erase the very wars that he had begun, moving them to the status of curiosities in separate parts of a cartouche.  By that time, a royal charter gave him licence to negotiate alliances in the name of the monarch, and he more openly charted the open lands that his privilege from the King had charged him to explore.  The map commanded assent from readers in new ways that extended Champlain’s own bid for authority of organizing routes of trade in the New World.  After returning to the Bay of Fundy, founding the French city of Port-Royal on the coast of Nova Scotia in 1605, as a new site for the St.-Croix island settlement in 1604, as a seat for the French in the New World.   After three years of intense chart-making along the Atlantic coast in Acadia for seats for colonies from Cape Cod to Maine–he visited Cape Cod twice in reconnaissance voyages to the “beau port” of what is now Gloucester during the summers 1605 and 1606 to search for further sites for possible trade and explored possible areas of settlement in the Bay of Fundy.




After mapping options and noting their advantages, he turned from charting sites for possible trading posts on the coasts, all of which met with limitations, to mapping courses of trade along riverine paths by which he could gain advantage over Dutch or English traders through the alliances he developed with the region’s inhabitants.  Champlain proceeded up the river after growing disillusioned after having no further suitable sites for colonies on the Atlantic in previous voyages and eager to map out a route for further trade.  His later famous voyage of 1608 led him to sail inland up the St. Lawrence where in June sought to found a French base beyond the treading post of Tadoussac at the Saguenay River’s mouth, and followed Cartier’s route north seeking dominance in the fur trade with his new Montaignais and Etchemin allies, and later with the Huron and Odawa peoples.

As the later itineraries of his over 20 voyages turned from nautical to riverine paths, Champlain seems to have interacted even more with native guides to explore his potential course.  Did this create a lack of trust between him and his interlocutors, as he sought to develop an authoritative record of potential trading routes?  There must have been some ambivalence with which he engaged native peoples as he moved up the St. Lawrence river, entering the territory with a group of men he came to call “sauvages” in his Journals, even as he allied with them.  The term “sauvages” had far less to do with Champlain’s personal perceptions than the currency that the image of the savage had gained in early modern France, and as talismen of the New World.  Champlain was dependent on native indications and advice as he sailed upstream in Cartier’s footsteps:  his immersion in native culture on the river, rather than on his ocean-bound craft, surely marked a shift in his attitudes perhaps visible in maps he drafted after his manuscripts: by the 1638 map, he not only noted native habitations with interest, but described the precise locations of the “nation of the Algomequins [Algonquins]” or the “nations of Montaignais,” French names for local nomadic tribes; Champlain acknowledged their own possession of territory, reflecting both the durable treaties he had made with them and assigning their fixed sites of habitation in an unprecedented manner by recognizing their spatial location on his 1638 map.


Nouvelle France 1632

Champlain Banishes Iriquois

Pettit nation des Algommeguins

Habitation de sauvages maniganatico



Mapping the settlement of Canada by the natives they called Montaignais, Etechemins, and Iroquois became central to the project of mapping the rivers and coasts of New France, and particularly as important an artery of trade as the river known as the St. Lawrence, much as it was central to the understanding of the New World in later periods.


Indians in Canada-  Iroquois, Etechemins, Montaignais

Although it is difficult to know what sort of help natives provided in mapping the interior of modern Ontario, it is instructive to examine a later map that an unidentified Chickasaw mapmaker presented to the Governor of Carolina that described the situation of native nations near the banks of the Mississippi River, in this copy of a map “Drawn upon a Deer Skin by an Indian Cacique and Presented to Francis Nicholson Esqr. Governour of Carolina,” covering some 700,000 square miles from Texas to New York around 1723.  The unidentified Chickasaw mapmaker distinguished each native nation that inhabited the region in relation to local rivers–and notes the tribes allied with the French who surrounded the Chickasaw:

Chickasaw map of Indian Nations

Did Champlain encounter similar oral descriptions of different nations, or did he translate these terms into French?  This Chickasaw map of about a century later demarcated the positions of native residences primarily in relation to the river, noting natives allied with the French by a simple “F”:

Nations mapped

The Algonquin relations about the upper St. Lawrence on which Champlain depended were later mapped, but must have included considerable information about neighboring tribes. After Champlain had left his ships and traveled inland, he had deepened his relations with the native guides who took him on the “Iriquois trail” up the river.  He was drawn further inland out of the need to reach further inland trading posts to secure advantages in the fur trade, as much as exploration; but perhaps his attitudes shifted as he traveled beyond the trading post of Tadoussec in his 1608 voyage from France, and adopted native place-names, perhaps reflecting some dependence on local guides.  In fact, he seems to have come to adopt Native names for the first time in his cartographical career, arriving at a narrowing of the river [“Kebec” = “where the river narrows”] where he chose to found a city of trade whose cliffs could be adequately defended, and choosing it to translate into French.

He described the site of the future city as abandoned, perhaps by natives who fled the Iroquois:  in fact, the place was deserted after Small Pox devastations.  Quebec was the third city he founded in the New World:  “I could not find any more suitable or better situated than the point of Quebec [at July 3 1608], so called by the natives, which was covered with nut-trees.” 



The arrival of the French paradoxically had earlier both cleared the map of the Native inhabitants he had come to call “Sauvages,” much as he had renamed the cities in New France with Christian place-names in his very first chart-like maps:




As Champlain grew enmeshed with the rivalries of native informants who defined the project of mapping and the larger still project, never completed, of actualizing deep belief in the ability to reach Pacific Ocean and an imagined route to Cathay–and the maps seem to reveal this search for a North-West passage–probably on the basis of what informants told him about a river that opened to an ocean, either the Mississippi or Hudson, or perhaps a sort of white lie.


Champlain's coastal map


Champlain was  similar intermediary, converting local knowledge of riverine paths and lakes to his own land-charts, and trying to exploit local knowledge to discover a North-West passage that had eluded the English or Dutch, but which Iroquois or Huron led him to believe:  this was in a sense the real war that he had engaged in, struggling for more exact knowledge of the land.


DefeatOfIroquoisByChamplainSavages and Champlain


The famous woodcut images by which he narrated his own involvement in what was the beginning of the Iroquois War in 1608–the first sustained military engagement with native inhabitants in which France remained so long involved.  The images reveal the extent to which, as a royal hydrographer, Champlain knew well natives’ experience in canoes as tools of river-navigation–the careful detail was no doubt in part a reference to his own mapping skills, presumably to recall his dependence on native guides, moving between the native world and providing new information for future trade routes to the naval officials at the French court who might encourage future voyages.

There must have been a degree of ambivalence in the elevation of the “savage” or “sauvage” for Champlain.  Historians have suggested that he used the term to refer to his guides and the natives who accompanied him on the “Iroquois trail,” as they ate raw meat, and as he introduced his young  twelve year old French bride to the men with whom he did regular business.  His riverine navigations were the basis of the travels that occasioned the narrative, of contact with fur traders and exploration of what would be the Great Lakes, on which he was assisted by numerous guides, but whose inhabitation of local areas he had earlier regularly omitted.   Natives sketched the routes of rivers and travel in the sand and on birch bark: Champlain learned the lay-out of local hydrography from them, and probably not only achieved his migration up the St. Lawrence but gained increased convictions of a route to Cathay that lured him up the river further, as informants described the sort of river that opened to the Ocean that he must have sought to question them in order to find.  When he followed the river past modern Ottawa in canoes, by portages between rivers and lakes, traveling past Allumettes Island to Lake Nipissing, Lake Ontario and Lake Huron after 1615, in search of the great salt-water sea Hudson Bay, he appears to incorporated sketches from local mapmakers in his maps, as the somewhat odd rectangular islands from his 1632 “Carte de la Nouvelle France, augmenteé . . . par le Sr. de Champlain, captaine de le Roy [Map of New France, expanded since the previous one, by Sieur de Champlain, Captain for the King]”–a map which, despite its greater accuracy, depended on native sketches for lands west of Montreal, or to the north in the Hudson Bay.


Nouvelle France 1632 WISC


Is there a chance that Native Peoples convinced him of the path for a what became later known as the “North-West Passage,” eager to appease him in his search to discover a path that would bring further economic wealth to France as an empire?

The New France that he surveyed on these travels was striking not only for its extension to the interior, but filled a similar taste for depicting the inhabitants at first-hand that he had removed from the land itself that he surveyed.  The map seems also hopeful of a Western opening to water, and suggests a rich alluvial plain in the Americas.  The image of an unending plain of voyage continued until the early eighteenth century, when cartographers noted that “The country is laid out in such a way that by means of the St. Lawrence one can travel everywhere inland, thanks to the lake which leads to its source in the West and the rivers that flow into it along its shores, opening the way to the North and the South,” Jean Talon wrote in 1670 to the French monarch, echoing the North-West passage Champlain sought to indicate in leaving open the “Mer du Nort Glacialle” to which boats cold easily arrive.

Mer du Nort Glacialle in Nouvelle France

Champlain’s maps of both 1612, 1618 and 1635 suggest a combine the rhumb lines of nautical cartography and surveyor’s tools, and present geographic maps as of considerably increased precision, the final of which portrayed New France “on the true Meridian” that combined the accuracy of topical mapping of New France’s topography while describing the advantages of nautical access that New France offered, in ways that continue to echo the cartographical imaginary of an isolario or book of islands, to which he almost rendered the Great Lakes as an extension.


Champlain maps his Voyages on a true meridian


A sign of his whole-heartedly identification of himself with the construction of his 1632 map may lie in the common interpretation of the centrally-located image of the sun’s face as a concealed portrait Champlain, a center from which rays spread across the map’s surface as if to illuminate the complex coastline and the detailed network of rivers and lakes in its interior.


Champlain in sun 1632c


The image of New France that was transmitted in the work of Nicolas Sanson from Champlain’s work effectively erased any analogous ethnographic components, although Sanson retained the toponomy of native towns in New France that still often survives.


Sanson Canada


Yet Champlain’s terrestrial mapping of the region’s future settlement is his legend.  The surveying instrument or mariner’s astrolabe of French manufacture found near the Ottawa River in Muskrat Lake, and dating from the early seventeenth century that is enshrined at the Museum of Civilization under glass as a treasure, believed to have been used by Champlain to perform sightings for his survey of the region–and a talisman of his ability to transform multiple sightings to a surface of uniform continuity–is preserved in Ottawa’s Museum of Civilization under glass as a material relic of mapping of New France; although its provenance is impossible to substantiate, its seventeenth-century instrument of surveying is presented as the medium of Champlain’s is relation to the project of mapping New France.


Champlains's Own Astrolabe-Museum of Civ, Ottawa


No image of Samuel de Champlain exists, but the image of the explorer popularized in prints as the below, that imagine native witnesses to his expertise as in awe of the terrestrial surveying he performed to chart his entry, as if to erase his own role in helping Champlain map the region.  His awe is perhaps a reflection of Champlain’s ability to expand his nautical chart by meridians–and to assemble his inland map without clear base-lines.




The engraving of course erased or whitewashed dependence on Native informants and their knowledge of the river.  By evoking unknowing amazement at Champlain’s instrument, the notion is to mythologize his acquisition of the country through a map–a classic if all too familiar 19th-century narrative of modern competence and expertise.

The narrative was launched in part by his inscription of the lake bearing his name in the map.


Lake Champlain:Trois Rivieres (a bit blurred)


If there are traces that Champlain left of his encounters all over the surface of the map of 1612, traces of the encounter are prominently celebrated in Burlington, Vermont, site of Lake Champlain and Champlain College, where recent interest on the relation of the namesake of the Lake–and celebration of his relatively enlightened contact with native peoples–are commemorated in multiple banners (and maps) that decorate the local airport.


Banner Champlain


As befits the proposal of expanded commercial traffic in the territory of New France, in his map of the region Champlain embedded multiple sightings native animals traded there on its surface–otters and beavers, whose pelts were particularly valued, and whales or native fruits–encouraging readers to peer into the content of the map’s surface they scanned for further natural curiosities.

But unlike the fairly fantastic sea-creatures depicted with abundance in sea charts, the marine seals, beavers, otters, horseshoe-crabs and other local curiosities in his 1632 map transform what was known as a “frozen wilderness” of little interest to the French court into a surface of abundance and copious meaning, and land of commercial plenty.



beavers in New France

Champlain Beaver?

Seal otter champlain

horse-shoe crab

beavers in New France


But it was the inhabitants of the land that Champlain knew–his informants–that were in part his cartographic assistants as well, and are depicted in greatest detail, but wearing costumes to separate and distinguish them from the French readers of Champlain’s maps, but offered an object of wonder at which to gaze at the inhabitation of New France that the map revealed: but from objects of wonder who participated in the crafting of the map, however, the native inhabitant were effect transformed to subjects of conversion.


Figures des montaignais


In preparing this post, I was inspired by an exhibit at the Canadian Museum of Civilization/Musée des civilizations in Ottawa CA, Moving with the River.  Any and all errors in my discussion of Champlain’s maps are of course my own; the maps of Champlain’s travels depicted in this post appear on the Museum’s website.  I’ve also adopted passages of the recent editions of Des Sauvages in Samuel de Champlain before 1604, ed. Conrad E. Heidenreich and K. Janet Ritch (2010).

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Filed under Canada, Native Peoples, Nautical Charts, nautical maps, New France, New World, North-West Passage

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

Cartographic Craftsmanship, or the Social Life of Maps

When he left Lisbon in 1502, the secret agent Alberto Cantino found a way of smuggling an elegant planisphere when he left Portugal for Ferrara, probably rolled up in his suitcase, that evaded the censors of that day’s TSA. Perhaps he rolled it up his sleeve. For the planisphere–a representation of the entire surface of the world–contained relatively classified information about the discoveries in the New World of import to the Portuguese that Cantino seems to have gleaned from mapmakers in Lisbon while he was visiting, and is the first chart to show the coast of Brazil and islands known as Fortunate, and the clear path around the Cape of Good Hope to the Indian Ocean:  he hoped that it was “in such high quality . . . and drawn in a manner that pleases your Excellency [è di tal sorte, e spero che tal manera piacerà a V. Exa],” suggesting the care with which the Este spy had procured the nautical chart.  I’ve discussed the aura of maps and charts in an earlier post; the delicate greens and red, and delineated shores, conjure the removed oceans with an aura of announcement, fitting new knowledge into a basic schema defined by lines of latitudes, not present in charts, as well as rhumb lines for nautical guidelines, whose points of reference were defined by a compass rose from which they radiated:

Cantino Map

The astounding accuracy of many of the coasts of this chart profited from a long tradition and protocol of nautical charting, with a peculiar manner of noting nautical expanse.  The chart reveals the discoveries of Pedro Álvares Cabral, a nautical explorer, who Cantino probably did not know.   Cabral had recently returned to Lisbon, and when Cantino arrived there, with the pretense of seeking to trade horses for the Este court, he must have sought him out on his secret mission to procure maps of the discoveries for the Este family.  The map might have copied the secret master-map the Portuguese maintained, or Padrão Real, of Portuguese discoveries; they were magnified unintentionally beautiful “Carta de navigar per le Isole novam trovate in le parte di India” which misidentified its subject, but provided the first geographic knowledge of Brazil.  But it clearly either superimposed or referenced the directional wind-roses of nautical charting, ostensibly for reading orientating directions at sea, although perhaps as befits a planisphere of the entire earth, is constructed about two “focal circles” of thirty-two points each:


The planisphere arrived in Italy as a sort of wonder of mapping multiple forms of knowledge, as well as a synthesis of expanse.  The recent 1494 Treaty noted as bisecting the Brazilian coast, had given part of the landmass known now as South America to the Portuguese monarchy which the map shows as the most exotic area it depicted–the map seems to trumpet the luxury of an area that the Portugese sovereign Jaoa II had concealed from Ferdinand I.

Isole Fortunate

How did it speak to its new audience?  The craftsmanship of an unknown Portuguese painter or cartographer may be surprising given the high stakes of its procurement from a government particularly secretive about recent discoveries in the New World.  The geographer and historian of maps George Kish described an early fifteenth-century contract for the depiction of a portolan chart, a genre of coastal mapping that developed in Europe in the early fourteenth century, that specified the involvement of both painters and mappers; the partnership seemed natural in so valuable a creation as a map or portolan chart: the hide on which it was drawn was itself grounds for the further investment in pigments and decorative motifs, as in the illustration of inhabitants of Sierra Leone.  Part of this was also because of the riches that these maps suggest in far-off lands, and part because the tradition of nautical charts was only to mention the names of ports that dot the regions’ shores, rather than their interiors–which remain blank:  other terrestrial place are limited to Jerusalem and the ports of departure and arrival, and space expanded over the seas rather than the terrestrial expanse they enclosed.



The protocols of charting are unclear, as is their orienting function.  The use of these protocols in drafting the Cantino chart may have shifted as charts gained a display value of their own and adressed audiences distinct from the commercial trading houses who earlier seem to have kept them.  Although  associated with nautical routes, charts gained a distinct display value as audiences sought to process discoveries for audiences less familiar with nautical travel, or with commercial exchanges over oceans.  In the sixteenth century, as Angelo Frabeto has shown, nautical charts gained a popularity and interest in Italian courts of central Italian courts in the mostly landlocked Romagna, near Ferrara.  The already fanciful components of nautical charting expanded in these charts, which were less dense and stark than predecessors, and suggest an early tradition of combining artifice and cartography that predate printed maps.  The map Cantino brought contained a specific treasure-chest of disjointed bits of information and lore, discontinuous but joined by being enclosed in the velvet case constituted by the map itself, from the mountains of northern Africa to the birds of Sierra Leone, and the image of the city of Jerusalem, all shown without particular care for scale.


Affrica and castles in Guinea

The genre suggests not a limited ability to consider other expanses, so much as a disinterest in picturing them.  The manuscript reproduction of these charts reflected an interest in the most recent ‘news,’ and the colored vellum  charted voyages that were not made, much as, ahistorically recalling the later uncanny adoption  the motif of the ‘wind-rose’ that defined orientations of travel or the winds, Joseph Cornell’s “Object (Roses des vents)” (1942-53); Cornell placed fragments of a map of the remote Great Australian Bight amidst shrunken coastlines that Cornell had never seen, planets that were as far away, and emblems of imaginary voyages, and the compasses that might take him there:

Rose des Vents


As Cornell’s box, the fragments of green shoreline in Brazil in Cantino’s map assemble the scattered expanse over which the Portuguese had travelled in a semblance of unity–the unity of an expanding expanse.  Whereas the fragility of all worldly phenomena–as of the crafted miniature of the universe’s expanse–a subject that was thematized in Cornell’s perverse if beautiful boxes, the fragmentary pieces of lunar or terrestrial maps serve as pivots of perspectives of viewers, as well as a nostalgia for the aspirations toward total visual knowledge that echo Cornell’s childhood and adult consumption of engravings in nineteenth century books of science.

The Cantino map expanded the protocols of nautical charting, which it combined with other forms of mapping to offer a range of curiosities couched in the surface of the map, together with convention from nautical charting of coloring the Red Sea red, or painting an exotic bestiary of parrots on Brazil’s verdant shore, and locating, crisply,  the islands’ shores themselves– although the eager cartographer magnified their own coastlines out of scale and proportions, despite his inclusion of a line of longitude and bar of scale.


Cantino selection

The expansion of a tradition of nautical charting to a hybrid form distinguishes the Cantino map, which faced a very different audience of readers once this ostensible copy of a secret map reached Italian shores.  The Este family  interest in this chart lay in how it revealed far-off lands that associated with ocean travel by the Portuguese, who had mapped islands in the Pacific beyond Cape Verde and the Azores in the early fifteenth century. When Cantino smuggled the chart to Ferrara in 1502, he saw it as completing the mission on which Ercole had sent him to procure secret information about “the new islands” discovered by the Portuguese, and the result of his discussions with several Portuguese explorers who had traveled to search for a Northwest Passage to Asia.  It was copied into new engraved maps of the Americas, and provided a protoype for the printed 1516 Carta Nautica.

The map centrally communicated, from the Portuguese perspective, the legitimacy of possessions in the New World, demaracted at the boundary line adjudicated and confirmed at Tordesillas, which leads one to imagine it derived from a seat of central authority.  Two disembodied bars of scale on the map’s surface suggest the measurement of terrestrial inter-relations, and its preparation for careful scrutiny of a studied eye.

Isole Fortunate

The Cantino map hence played with the protocols of charting.  Rather than insist on uniform coloration of the ocean, to prevent obscuring rhumb lines, but to maintain its elegance, as the cartographer colored certain regions a light green, by confining the blue paint to the Mediterranean, Baltic, and unbounded Caspian sea, the map combined a pictorial artifice with the practice of charting or representing oceanic space–the Mediterranean had its own portolan chart, and perhaps didn’t demand that its expanse be represented in a similar style.  The combination of artifice and nautical protocols exemplifies the huge expansion of the purview, as well as containing the first news of the Brazil in Italy, which was soon diffused in other charts and maps.

The Cantino chart might be measured against the sort of artifice in earlier fifteenth century charts, popular chartings of the Portuguese voyages to the African coast.  The chart that arrived in Ferrara from Seville dramatically expanded the purview,  toponomy, and perspective of nautical charts the Este  knew, to be sure, such as Grazioso Benincasa’s detailed 1494 mapping of the African shore:



Benincasa’s 1482 nautical chart densely collated costal ports but adopted the similar carefree style of decoration–probably the work of a painter–to the mythical monarchs that inhabit an imagined uncharted terrestrial expanse.  The image seems more fanciful, and designed with the desire to appeal to audiences by its  and was the culmination of a series of portolan charts and nautical atlases of the prolific Anconitan mapmaker, following his study of Mediterranean cities that from the 1460s to included western African ports, as well as mythical islands, and dense textual legends of geographic information.  Inland areas are blankly traversed by the same rhumb lines, which echo compass lines, and the truth-claims were much more limited, and land-masses probably entrusted to painters with limited first-hand knowledge of the region.  Benincasa’s chart colors the Red Sea red , too, following a tradition of charts, and Jerusalem and several biblical cities in iconic miniature.

The Cantino map offered a new way of reading the map–one which mimimized these curiosities.  For one, the thick and prominent line of longitude in the “Cantino” map has received significant attention, together with its depiction of the Fortunate Islands, Antilles, and Azores, for this defines and demarcated the new region of sovereign possession.


Line from Tordesillas and parrots



The changed social life of these maps suggests new uses of the map as a field for understanding space–perhaps less ready to note fanciful riverine paths and foreign sovereigns or kingdoms, and more to conform to criteria of inclusion.  If one considers the new circumstances of reading the portolan that arrived in Ferrara, and its use to imagine and consider space, we might offer a reading revealing more than the differences in place-names it includes, or the conventions of mapping.  Although the format of mapping seems the same, the “manner” and “quality” of the map addressed a different sort of audience, despite the common origins of its prototypes.

The aura of the map was not limited to its conventions.  The material objects of wonder from the New World that populated the Cantino map are most striking, however, in how they illustrate an early interest in items of exchange.  The unity of the portolan chart is very different, of course, because it includes the Fortunate Islands of the sovereign of Castille, as well as the Brazilian shore, and a chunk of its richly green interior, cut off from the unknown mainland and in Portuguese possession, as if to show off the charmed jewel of the new lands that the chart encompassed.  The chart’s inclusion of a disconnected shoreline of Brazil assembles a makeshift sense of unity by noting the broken fragment of the New World to the lower left, foregrounding it as both a sort of promises of new riches, and a means to stake possession of a territory by no means yet entirely concrete, the feathers of whose birds might be better known than any other aspect of the chart.

Parrots in Brazil

The chart was kept in the Este library in Modena, but stolen when anti-Austrian Modenese looted the palace in 1859.  The map remained temporarily lost, before being found later that year in curious circumstances of re-use as the folding screen or door in a sausage store or butcher shop.  (Some portolan charts became book-covers; others were cut into strips as bookmarks or otherwise recycled.)  The Cantino planisphere, reused as a screen, was temporarily stripped of its attraction as a promise of new possessions.

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Filed under cartographic accuracy, Joseph Cornell, Mapping the New World, Nautical Charts