Category Archives: New World

Mapping New Worlds on Eggshells: Adventures in the Artifice of Renaissance Map-Making

We have learned to expect to pause as Google Maps draw boundary lines, extending to new tiles which soon take forms bounded by in clearcut lines across uniformly flatly colored quite static blocks, as data streams materialize forms from blurs that delineate highways, city blocks, state boundaries, and mountains in gray, green, tan, or light blue–a poor surrogate reality that strongly contrasts to the vivid ways we experience space in early modern maps and globes.  The convincing nature of the watery globe was far more pronounced in an era when the ocean provided the only medium for global travel, to be sure, and the immediacy of rendering oceanic space far more of a concern of global mapmaking.  (Indeed, for a more extensive consideration of map authorship and the concerns of its representation of oceans, see my post on its mapping of ocean waters.)  The  medium of the woodcut presented unique challenges of mapping the circumambient oceans, not defined by clear routes or itineraries, but as a unique medium of travel, whose curving lines that lapped the shores of inhabited lands–




or individual lines that vaguely echo, in wave-like form, shorelines of European nations in this map from the late fifteenth-century Nuremberg Liber Chronicarum: Das Buch der Croniken und Geschichten, just predating the discovery of the New World.


Ocean curves.png



Unlike the on-screen conjuring of a demarcated space, the design of early modern maps invites detailed examination.   This undated miniature globe, engraved with considerable care on a two conjoined halves of two ostrich eggs, the size of a grapefruit, invites viewers to sail on the seas that swirl around a record global totality as something like a surrogate for actual world travel, its carefully worked details leave a clear trace of the hand, if not a phenomenological experience of keenly recorded sensory properties.


Ostrich Egg Globe (1504)

The engraving of a newly imagined expanse reported in marine charts created quite distinct operations of visualizing a newly materialized space–it displays one of the first maps to be printed that showed the New World’s form and recalls  the earliest printed images of North America.  The islands of “Spagnola [Hispaniola]” and “Isabella”, barely balanced with the huge area that it assigns to the Land of Brazil, or “Terra Sanctae Crucis” in something like an antipodal balancing act of continents around the equator, opposed in counterpoint to the Eurasian expanse.

New World in Ostrich_egg_globe

If the opposition of these continents in the ostrich-egg globe betrays significant cosmographical learning, the map itself reflects curiosity in the first mapped images of the New World, and a particular care to the definition of the coastlines of the newly found land masses we now call continents.  The exquisite care and delicate relief of the globe’s surface in this delicate construction made from two ostrich eggs has been recently dated to 1504 by its shell-density, based on a CT-Scan.  If the date can be ever established conclusively, the globe is one of the first images of the New World to have migrated from Portuguese marine charts to a particularly skilled level of craftsmanship, predating some of the known bronze globes of terrestrial expanse it resembles;  the image of Europe, Asia, Africa and the Land of Brazil could be scanned in analogously crisp detail to known early sixteenth-century globes and printed map-gores.  Indeed, the range of graphic tools engravers developed for embellishing the surface of maps set something of a standard for scanning land and sea, as their exquisite tones of shading increased the persuasive range of graphic forms that the anonymous artisan who made this eggshell map exploited to delineate the inhabited world.

The artifice of employing eggshells as a surface of cartographical rendering–indeed, the noble curiosity of ostrich egg shells, an animal recently kept in aristocratic zoos in northern Italy–suggests the precious status that was invested in this curious map as a communication of geographic learning.  The anonymous artist of the recently discovered egg-shell globe converted the braided lines of oceanic expanse and peaked mountains from engraved maps into material form.  But to preserve the sphericity of the globe, the artisans who fashioned the globe joined bisected lower ends of two ostrich egg shells to engrave–unlike the stylized wax-resist used in the Ukrainian art of pysanky, or the common painting of images on ostrich eggs–the surface of the egg that exploited its curved surface and ability to hold fine detail–as in the contemporary artisan Patric Allaert, who specializes in their manual engraving.

The ends of the ostrich egg’s shell provided the curved surface of a record of terrestrial unity:  if the recent claims to date the eggshell to 1504 are correct, based on the dating of density, the artifact would the first image of the New World is to believed, it suggests the huge investment of artifice in picturing this new-found world.  The accuracy of determining the age of the shell by a CT scan of bone-density may well be questioned, given that the loss of 10% per century seems more of an approximation than a device for exact dating.  But the egg of an ostrich was of course often valued for its size as a decorative object in elite settings, although the medium seems innovatively used by the creator of the globe in order to create a spherical surface by using only its rounded half to image the spherical earth.

Together with the roughly contemporary discovery of a new image of the terraqueous world that derived from the globes of Martin Waldseemüller, the media buzz around the eggshell globe may elide the explosion of material cultures of picturing global expanse that emerged at the start of the 16th century:  indeed if Waldsemüller’s twelve-sheet 1507 world map is known in only one example, the newly discovered gores offer the first evidence of their reprinting.  Their difference from four sets of printed gores, in all of which its segments are surrounded by a thickly-inked black boundary-line, and unlike them describe the equatorial line, the place of the Malibar coast revised in the gore segments, as the shape of the island of Madagascar, which, together with changes in the shading of oceans and some of lettering, suggest that their engraver made intentional alterations on a new woodblock to attract new readers, as well as to better approximate its cartographical rendering.  Chet van Duzer has argued the gores reflect continued experimentation in the format of mapping a legible record of the newly discovered world–and his shifting conception of how the map works to process a spatial information from different sources in a coherent whole–comprehending nautical discoveries in a framework for processing expanse.

map4n-3-webULM Cim. 1072. Courtesy University Library of Münich

This set of gores, only discovered bound between two other volumes in the holdings of the University of Munich, suggests that it met a growing demand for the assembly of globes that included the most recent information of nautical charts.  The gores were made to be readily affixed to spheres of similar diameter to the eggshell globe–the line distinguishing the “Diameter Globi” reminds us of the material use that this flysheet met, and the flexibility of the medium of a globe in displaying spatial information, and is unlike the four other sheets of gores Waldseemüller designed which are known to have survived.  The creation of gores to map the world suggested the popularity and currency of creating a comprehensive global map, however, even in an age of terrestrial projections:  if we valorize the Ptolemaic precepts that the ancient astronomer set forth for transferring the curvature of the earth’s inhabited surface to a plane, whose indices guarantee the preservation of uniform scale, distance, and spatial orientation, the embodiment of that space as a globe was as much of a concern for early modern map-users:  the “gores” designed by Martin Waldseemüller provide clear evidence, if they rarely survive, of the demand for making such “self-made globes” in the early modern period to visualize terrestrial expanse.

Gores Of Waldseemuller, 1507

Indeed, the Munich gores testify to the popularity of assembling the globe, even in an age associated with the multiplication of alternate versions of terrestrial projections.

Munich GOres

The eggshell globe responds to similar problems of rendering expanse.  Although terrestrial globe were classical forms, the gores present and substantiate a sense of terrestrial globe as a shift in the transmission of mapped information, as revolutionary as that from scroll to codex, that changed not only the experience of ordering a map’s surface but the reading of maps as registers of space–and tactile experience of a map.  The ordering of the surface of the globe provided a way to communicated the dimensio orbis in relation to both the misura and the pictura represented in maps.

Beyond the suggestion of measuring terrestrial expanse in  printed map-gores, the estheticized image of global virtuosically demonstrates its own artifice to its viewers as a record of global continuity on a spherical surface, ingeniously created by joining halves of eggshells at the equatorial line.  As much as it reflects a humanist culture, the globe is embedded in habits of collecting curiosities like ivory, ostriches or feathers at Renaissance courts that reference the exotic provenance of information mapped on nautical charts that distill an unknown expanse, even as they converted them to a new formal language of scrutiny and examination.

Arabia and Africa EGGSHELL GLOBE

The globe is a miniature, but the size or ostrich eggs were valued as sites of wonder in ecclesiastic settings–ostrich eggs were described as hung in church as mirabilia by Girolamo Cardano, the naturalist Conrad Gesner, and Sebastian Münster, as in this detail from the altarpiece by Piero della Francesca known as the Brera Palla–and were treasured as items gilded in silver, as both natural wonders and curiosities.

piero's eggPiero della Francesca, detail from Brera Palla

The engraving of the surface of the eggshell appears invested with an expressive quality absent in many contemporary maps.  Especially intriguing is the adoption of early techniques that engravers had begun to use to indicate oceanic waves–similar in their delineation of individually cresting waves to the earliest of Ptolemaic world maps– engraved with painstaking care into the shell of the egg, rather than the stippled seas in later engravings, which took an intense patience even greater than the etching of defined coastlines, mountain ranges, and riverine mouths in the elegantly carved eggshells.

We do not know who created these lines, but the exquisite care to these bodies of water in the globe invested it with a strikingly concrete presence.  Indeed, the engraving of the sea is distinct from other engraved images, and creates an oceanic surface unlike either nautical charts or terrestrial maps–these cresting rows of dense waves create a remarkable sense of palpability, even if the globe did not distinguish the oceanic expanse by name.


The considerable illusionistic detail reflects the unique provenance of this globe, whose historical details are so far unknown.  Ostrich eggs were often collected in late fifteenth-century courts, known either from courtly menageries as much as curiosities of nature, and the precious notion of the surface of this map is reflected in the detailed craft of its engraving.   Indeed, the virtuosic removal of calcium carbonate from the shell seems to mediate an early account of the “Mundus Novus” and other regions to a courtly audience; so does the legend, also familiar from other bronze globes, or, near the equator, the legend “H[i]c sunt dracones“–rendered “Here be dragons” by most–in ways that underscored the evocative or linguistically performative nature of the map, as if conjuring newly discovered space for its viewer:  the braided nature of the ocean waves lead the viewer’s eyes across the braided waves engraved on its curved surface as if on a voyage across an open nautical expanse with a sense of wonder, and admiration for its artifice.

It is difficult to know the degree to which this globe was intended to be consulted as a geographic record.  The apparent smudge marks over central Europe and over Brittany in this careful transference of the world map to  conjoined halves of two conjoined ostrich eggs’ shells may suggest its display in either city.  But the provenance of this unsigned and most unusual of cartographical media is unclear, although its design reflects the popularity of the line-drawn engraved map.  The globe elegantly combines landscape with the format of mapped space to lend material solidity to mapped space very rare for the early sixteenth century, destined for an especially sophisticated audience.

But the engraved egg suggests both an awareness of recent engravings–the prime format for the reproduction of early maps–and is dated by its owner, based on a CT scan, to c. 1500, and for him exactly to the year 1504.  Despite a clear absence of parallels or meridians on the globe, whoever owned or designed it must have tacitly understood the accuracy of its illustration of terrestrial proportions.  Although the appearance of the globe–and that of several printed gores–has been tied to the Florentine mapmaker Henricus Martellus, who worked in Florence, its graphic syntax and conventions reveal close study of engravings, and the recreation of a legible record of the inhabited world based on clear interest in nautical charts around the years 1504-5, when news of the “Mundus Novus” first noted in letters Amerigo Vespucci wrote to Medicean patrons about his voyages with Columbus in a pamphlet of 1503.  If the ‘argument’ of the spherical globe is in part to communicate the continuity of terraqueous expanse–


–and orient viewers by conjoining naturalistic detail and  a toponymy written in block lettering echoing humanist type.

The record is strikingly different from the sort of symbolic emblem of a world map that Martellus designed in miniature, c. 1490, where Eurasia is surrounded by waters and an almost fanciful ring in which proliferate multi-colored oceanic isles.


There is something is far more tactile about the elaborate etching of a world map on the material of ostrich egg shells that foregrounds oceans which link the world’s surface as a surface of travel, which no doubt reflects the impact of engraved images to understand the surface of mapped space:  in this delicate curious artifact, painstakingly performed lest the shells (no doubt in limited supply) should crack, would, if the shell’s announced dating to 1504, also make its mapping New World islands of Hispaniola and the Land of Brazil prior to the date traditionally assigned to the first synthesis of Columbus’ discoveries on a printed world-map.

While we wait further investigation about its composition and construction, the globe’s intensive preparation from nautical charts might cause one to rethink the role of the map as a legible surface and a decorative form, and the audiences who read maps of the New World in the first age of printing.


The clear coastal definition of New World islands and Brazil’s contours and riverine mouths in this most material of maps–about the size of a grapefruit with a diameter of just 4.33 inches (or about 11 cm.)–reveals the transfer of forms of Portuguese nautical charts to the decorative arts, and to a new context of both reading and cartographical artifice.  This is evident in the intensive attention to transferring mapping forms to different surfaces attentive to their three-dimensionality in the small globe:  if it did not note terrestrial expanse on a Ptolemaic graticule of meridians and parallels, it met clear expectations for a modern form of mapping expanse on tacit rather than explicit indices, noting with considerable craft the continent South America–“Land of Brazil”–from the coasts to its rivers’ paths, after contemporary manuscript nautical charts.  But the globemaker converted nautical charts through the labored etching of a landscape map of considerable precision, suggestive of the heightened expectations for exact terrestrial maps.  So much is evident from the engraver’s artifice at rendering coastal shorelines and suggestive landscape iconography.

Ostrich Egg Mapped Expanse

The utter absence in the globe of clear parallels or meridians–and the absence of what might be called a culture of instrumental reading of calibrated measurement–raises questions about the circulation of mapped information for reading publics, and the acceptance of tacit indices for reading their content.  For the globe clearly addressed an audience knowledgeable of the proportional and uniform arrangement of terrestrial space on a map’s surface, despite their absence.  The ostrich-egg globe was placed on the world stage by the Belgian independent scholar Stefaan Missinne, who announced in August 2013 it had been purchased at the 2012 London Map Fair by an undisclosed owner, and vouched for its authenticity as an early cartographical record that predated the humanist geographic project of Waldseemüller and his learned patron Ringmann, which led to the first naming of America in a printed map.  (Missinne’s report to the Washington Map Society seems tantamount to a tease, given the payment in 2003 by the Library of Congress of some 2 million dollars for what was believed the earliest map to differentiate clearly “America” from Asia in 1507 as separate landmasses, whose 2007 delivery occasioned its delivery by Chancellor Angela Merkel in an occasion of state.)

The prominent designation “Mundus Novus” on the eggshell globe suggests a slightly earlier date, the very title of the 1503 treatise that Amerigo Vespucci dedicated to Lorenzo Piero de’ Medici, describing “the things most worthy of notice and of being remembered . . . in this new world,” based on his 1501 voyage with Columbus–a letter later Waldseemüller subsequently converted to mapped form.  Should Stefaan Missine correctly date the globe, it would be constructed soon after the printing of the treatise describing the voyage to a new continent “more populous  . . . than our Europe or Asia or Africa, and even more temperate.”  The globe named the region the “Terra Santa Crucis,” to promise the conversion of its inhabitants, in the manner of a Florentine planisphere bearing the date 1507 of Francesco Rosselli–to which I will return.

The discovery of the globe raises fascinating questions about its ties to Renaissance cultures of engraving and mapping, as well as to contemporary practices of accurately transferring the surface of the map to a perfectly spherical globe.  It also raises questions about its relation to the material cultures of map making.  Missinne ventured to tie the globe to the workshop of that Renaissance engineer Leonardo da Vinci, based on suggestive visual evidence as well as the similarities of its detailed rendering of oceans to Leonardo’s drawings of water; despite the lack of interest in details of New World geography in Leonardo’s work, the practice of engraving raises fascinating questions of the migrations of maps to other plastic media.  Leonardo was not skilled himself in engraved images, and far preferred manuscript design, he did ask his assistant and heir Melzi reproduce the images for a planned treatise of anatomy with images in copperplate–rather than wood–that reveal some technical familiarity with engraved images, even if he was not known to use these techniques:  the cryptic referencing of one comment in his Notebooks reveal an appreciation of its value in a book of artistic anatomy.  He ventured in making some nature prints, scholars as Karen Reeds have argued, in ways that evidence deep interest in print as a medium by which to register local detail that could be readily reproduced.

The capital lettering of the toponyms in the eggshell globe clearly echoed a humanist typeface, and more credibly matches the skill of the virtuosic Florentine map engraver, Francesco Rosselli, known for expansive views of cities such as Florence from the 1480s, as well as his delineation of the very first oval projection of the New World–a map which is striking because, as the eggshell globe, it included many of the discoveries of Columbus’ third voyage, and cast the islands of the same shape as Hispaniola and Isabella as the “HISPAN[A]E INSUL[A]E.”  The veduta of Florence exemplifies Rosselli’s dedication to cartographical detail as well as to prepare an icon of the city, whose popularity was evident in this later reproduction of the Roselli view, now situated in a nicely shaded topographic landscape:

Rosselli designed the oval projection that first situated the New World and southern continent for readers in copperplate.  The unique oval projection clearly imitated the form of a spherical earth, expanding upon the three formats of projection Ptolemy had described to offer a geometric projection that he accommodated to depict the entire surface of the globe in one bounded image.  The projection exploited both the straight parallels of longitude to exploit the legibility of print to prepare New World toponomy and emphasize the continuity of ocean travel to the New World:  viewers find  the “Terra S. Crucis sive Mundus Novus,” identical to the eggshell globe and Lenox Globe, below the “isole hispane,” in a visualization of the New World closely analogous to that which Vespucci had described.


Rosselli’s oval world map resonates with the eggshell map not only in its impressive representation of spherical unity, reflecting in its toponomy and the distribution of islands the content of the eggshell globe; in much the same manner, the globe mirrors attention to the detail of single-line engraving and clearly delineated humanistic capital letters.  Rosselli’s application to engraved maps, now believed both substantial and sustained, the elegance of Rosselli’s carefully engraved elegant woodcut lines and experimentation with copperplate engraving make him a more likely candidate than Leonardo to have experimented with the spherical eggshell globe, and indeed in imagining the representation of terrestrial continuity as a surface that viewers could scan with equal attention to its details, much as he seems to have constructed multi-sheet images of cities, much as the detailed image of Florence above allowed viewers to linger over its best-known buildings–if this “Chain View” was constructed after Rosselli’s multi-sheet map, it preserves its conceit of comprehending the city in its totality.  The global view, as if of an “exploded” globe, uses an oval projection of his own devise to show the word’s surface as it lay upon a globe, to illustrate the relation of the New World islands that Vespucci had described across the Atlantic ocean and did so in ways that inexplicably magnified the possibility of Portuguese territory in the New World that had been earlier adjudicated at the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas, which granted Portugal sovereignty of lands within a meridian that was effectively drawn 370 leagues west of the Cape Verde islands, already within Portuguese sovereignty.

The Florentine master-engraver dedicated himself to mapmaking after Ptolemaic criteria so heavily to make his relation to the eggshell globe more plausible:  Rosselli’s mastery of single-line engraving, the close resemblance of mountains engraved on the globe and Rosselli’s inclusion of mountainous topography, and his use of dedication to elevating the status of engraving through sustained involvement in the design of maps–evident in both the oval projection and an illuminated version that derived from an imprint of the very same engraving block.  Indeed, his experimentation with the dramatic coloration of the map reveal a blending of naturalism and cartography that is analogous to the eggshell globe.


The detailed rendering of the eggshell-globe reflects the increased interest of preparing maps as forms of graphic evidence and persuasion in a surface readily scanned.  The globe is a far less fulsome statement of cartographical expertise than the wall-map of Martin Waldseemüller, whose twelve sheets printed on rag cloth paper survive in few examples save the one discovered in recalls the intensively detailed workmanship early globes that must be examined in relation to the spherical representation of spatial continuity on the eggshell globe, and the extent to which the eggshell globe may have served as a model for other early globes–all, curiously, made for globes of about a three-inch diameter, or one and a half palmi.   The close attention to naturalistic design of the ocean’s face and use of block capitals of Bembo lettering to note toponyms links Rosselli’s oval projection and the eggshell globe and its apparent cast, the Lenox Globe.

The hollow copper Lenox Globe of a diameter of 4.4 inches (11.2 cm.), identical to the eggshell globe, foregrounded the novelty of importing information from nautical charts in ways that parallel the novelty of the eggshell globe:  the oddity in that globe of naming most of Asia as “India”–and locating “Mundus Novus” as South America–suggest a cartographical confusion of transmission as much as laxity, and a confusion in naming:  it similarly noted “Libya Interoir [sic].”   The surface of this curiosity, discovered in a Parisian antique shop in the mid-nineteenth century and kept as a toy for several years, also uses a humanistic script to note places and regions and a landscape iconography–similar to the most elegant Ptolemaic codices.  The apparently identical showcasing of the newly discovered islands on the Lenox and eggshell globe clearly link them to the design of an identical cartographer, eager to press a striking argument of terraqueous continuity to an interested audience.


psnypl_map_242u_254b352a6aLenox Globe; courtesy New York Public Library

In sharp contrast, the far less topically detailed, smaller gilded “Jagiellonian” globe, which served as an ornament to a clock, offered a more schematic rendering of a globe and did not offer such possibilities of close reading; if derived from the stars, is distinctly scored with apparent parallels and meridians that highlight the transposition of the earth to a gridded surface and Ptolemaic artifice of crafting a terrestrial projection, but lack enumeration:

JagellonianJagiellonian Globe

Such globes are both of impressive craftsmanship, ordered on clear parallels and meridians.  The so-called Jagiellonian Globe engraved in metal is of smaller diameter than the Lenox Globe, its diameter just 7.35 cm.  Its exacting craftsmanship mirrors and seems informed by the rendering of the New World on twelve engraved sectioned “gores” that have been credited to the French geometrician Louis Boulengier of Alby, circa 1516–the gores, which some argued were only placed in Waldseemüller’s treatise of cosmography, and came to be regarded as part of his treatise, processed cartographical knowledge of a New World, which offered the ability to comprehend a similar offered a slimmer image of South America for ready consultation, with a considerably clearer toponymy than the Lenox Globe or the ostrich egg-globe that may well be the model from which it seems to have been cast–as is certainly suggested by their identical features.

The five surviving sheets of gores that survive as independent flysheets–below first in a modern reconstruction and then a recently discovered individual sheet of twelve sections–are rare, but suggest an early market for globes as symbolic forms to organize and process space–if not models for crafting miniatures like the Lenox and Jagiellonian globes.

1506 Boulangier Gores NYPL


The decorative globes suggests broad familiarity with forms of publishing maps, and an interest in creating a material image of measured expanse.  Their similarities also suggest the potential role of the eggshell globe–or a lost prototype which might be its model–in the transmission of information about the New World.  Although the eggshell globe is claimed by Dr. Missinne to have been produced near Florence, and dated with somewhat astounding accuracy to c. 1505, when a number of world maps based on nautical charts circulated in the city, the eggshell globe may indeed suggest that a far broader circulation of geographic images occurred than what has survived–and indeed that the globes displayed a comparable claims to accuracy to the famous Lenox Globe, previously dated only with a quite approximate estimate.

The striking similarities in the Lenox globe and the eggshell model reveal them to be from the same model if not copies–the strong similarities make a compelling case that the eggshell globe constituted a model for casting such globes–although written evidence of their existence has not been encountered, and no comparable evidence of a globe cast from the “eggshell” prototype, which has itself only been recently made known, is known to exist.  Both of these curious near-identical globes identify but one ocean between Europe and Asia, noting South America (the Land of Brazil), and place, the “Lenox” globe in the New York Public Library notes, north of Rio De La Plata, modern-day Hispaniola, Cuba, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico from nautical charts, rendered in the Renaissance toponymy–Isabel; Spagnola; Terra Sancta Crucis; Terra de Brazil–at angles identical to their position on the eggshell globe that confirm suspicion that one is indeed a cast of the other, and the eggshell globe the original from which the below image was cast in two halves, later assembled:


Particularly striking is that neither globe makes note of the equatorial line–a crucial concept in cosmographical learning–although the form of the globe clearly gestures to it–and neither map notes the Treaty of Tordesillas.

Each of these globes attest to deep curiosity in scanning the surface of the map as a power over space, and a transferring of maps on a globe, predating Waldseemüller’s placement of “America” as a separate and distinct continent in his majestic twelve-sheet wall map of 1507, whose measured indices set a new standard for the functions of a map’s face and design as well as its cosmographical argument for terrestrial continuity.


The coastline of this rendering of a thin “America,” firmly located in one hemisphere, details a hydrographic record more closely than can be detected in the above, and a prominent naming of the “new” continent in large capital letters of humanistic script:

Detail of MW's World Map, courtesy Library of Congress

The first two copper globes have been tied to a tradition of world-mapping that is more ornamental than humanistic, but responded to a similar elevation of the artifice of mapping as a basis for transcribing terrestrial unity.  The engraved toponymy of the spherical conjoined shells in fat suggests a complex translation of nautical charts and cartographical forms into ‘new media’ of powerful symbolic roles as dense compilations of geographic information, probably for an audience distinct from the detail of the larger wall-map.

Waldseemüller is often credited for synthesizing a Ptolemaic model to measure the global distances and Columbus’ practice of mapping Portugal’s relation to the New World, fashioning a solution between the calculation of terrestrial expanse.  If these two miniature globes accommodate the form of Brazil, the ostrich-egg globe suggests that the interest in such maps had migrated to courtly audience with a detail far beyond the twelve-sheet projection of the sort included in Waldseemüller’s treatise.


But more than responding to the sort of cartographical expertise that Waldsemüller communicated, the eggshell map seemed to orient viewers not only by its sphericity, but the clear legibility of its toponomy–whose clear legibility provide viewer with the most prominent orientating signs.

Although the cartographical location of “America” is occupied by two isolated islands of “Spagnola” on the ostrich-egg globe, but the discovery most delicate of globes was created at the same time as the first engraved maps of the New World’s novelty and predating most other known printed wall-maps, long studied as offering the first images of America.  The set of twelve gores, if unsigned, are regularly read as part of the learned geographer’s “Universalis cosmographie descriptio” of 1507–whose one note of plain celebration was printed on the reverse of the fold-out gores read as part of the book where he described a new world, “surrounded on all sides by ocean;” on the verso of the fold-out gores that were included in the booklet, he told readers modestly that “the purpose of this little books is to write a sort of introduction to the whole world which we have depicted on a globe and on a flat surface.  The Globe I have limited in size, but the map is larger.”  But the eggshell globe seems to show an interest both in the artifice of creating a record of nature–witnessed in the detail dedicated to the rendering of oceanic expanse–and the legibility of expanse.  How did the eggshell globe relate to a broader material culture of globe-making, or the gores themselves?  Further examination of the globe may reveal whether the meridian drawn at the Treaty of Tordesillas to divide Spanish and Portuguese possessions in the New World and separates the “Terra di Brazil” was an intended construction.  But the viewer is primarily oriented by the globe-maker’s adoption of Vespucci’s exact toponyms.

Though not following a self-consciously Ptolemaic form, the Lenox globe vaunts its own modernity, noting “Spagnolla” and “Mundus novus” (Land of Brazil) in places identical to the eggshell globe offer some testimony of the novelty modern tools provided craftsmen as a means to process relations of terrestrial expanse among informed viewers that were invested with recognized epistemological claims–if not a common ancestor map.  Even while not measuring global expanse on a grid of parallels or meridians, the eggshell globe showcased the novelty of recent Columban discoveries.


The rare number of such maps that have been found have an iconic status and laconic texts makes any discovery of a new cartographical rendering of the New World an occasion for comment–in large part because they can only make us wonder what sort of meaning they had for their readers, and how much they confronted problems of noting the circumference or size of the terrestrial globe or of reconciling ancient authorities with the Columban discoveries.

To be sure, the medium of engraving this newly mapped space seems in its very presence communicates the value that early geographical maps had for their readers and audiences as subjects of discussion.  For the prominent place that they give to an image of exotic lands that were known as they were described in travel accounts as that of Marco Polo or the Franciscan William of Rubruck, from Arabia to Japan to Africa, suggest little concern for drawing boundary lines or positions of cities so much as vague regions of provenance–as the appearance on this globe of the inscription in its perhaps earliest form in Eastern Inda, Hc svnt dracones, “Here lie dragons”–the legend cast in the copper Lenox Globe, previously dated c. 1510, and the slightly smaller gilded so-called Jagiellonian Globe thought to be of the same era–a phrase now retained as motto of Wired’s MapLab.

The phrase has been taken to evoke the persuasive powers of maps to define a region, and indeed to serve as a surface to mark the boundaries of one’s work.  The phrase was long taken as tacit acknowledgement of unexplored or particularly dangerous territories,  and as an evocative inscription seems to derive from the 1879 “discovery” of the Lenox globe.  Even if ancient authorities from Pliny the Elder and Solinus note “snakes” in the southern regions of Africa, and the Roman “Peutinger Map” notes the sites of the birth of scorpions, elephants, and dog-headed peoples (cenocephalous beings), these regions were noted with rarity on the surface of maps.  Even as these maps expressed considerable curiosity about the borders of the inhabited known world, reminding viewers “in his locis elephanti nascuntur“, “in his locis scorpiones nascuntur” and “in his locis cenocephali nascuntur“–the c. 1300 Erbsdorf map even noted a “dragon [draco]” in south-east Africa–the “Here be Dragons” formulation suggests a far more fanciful description of space than the Lenox or eggshell globe must have carried when they were made.  Indeed, the “dracones” have been linked in other globes to the cannibals in the Kingdom of Dagroians that Marco Polo described.

To be sure, the foreign was often measured by monstrosity: Olaus Magnus’ 1516 Carta Marina places sea monsters in the North Sea.  But the location of the warning on the face of this map is strikingly identical in its location to the Lenox globe.  The legend’s placement may suggest the descriptive ends that the globe served for ordering space, even if it lacked clear metric indices to situate the detailed contours of continents in the manner of printed maps.  Indeed, the Lenox globe, found in the late nineteenth century, was only placed in an armillary sphere in the 1930s; its situation of oceans bears considerable distortion of longitude, despite considerable latitudinal accuracy.  Revealing animating interest in modern cartographical forms, the globe noted both “Mundus Novus” [New World] and “Terrae Sanctae Crucis” [Land of the Holy Cross]–as the French-made gilded copper Jagiellonian Globe–to communicate its considerable sense of orienting readers to the novelty of rendering a global geographic expanse:


It has long been noted that the spherical hollow globe whose diameter is 11.2 cm. (4.4 inches) reveals little influence of Walseemüller’s 1507 world map that first named America as a separate region, but prominently noted islands discovered in Columbus’ second voyage–described by Vespucci–and a “Terra di Brazil.”  (The armature in which it appears was used to display it within the New York Public Library, but the globe was not earlier associated with it.)  Dr. Missinne dated the conjoined shells of ostrich eggs to 1504 based on their relative integrity; although the precision of dating the integrity of an eggshell raises eyebrows, the proposed date would make the globe the earliest to situated New World islands on a map, if not a model for the multiple globes–and gores–of similar dimensions.  If not a sister-globe to the copper Lenox globe, which may well have been cast from it, the eggshell globe may constitute an original version of a Globe long believed the first ever made:  if so, its historical significance demands investigation, with special attention to the inventive properties it assumed as a quite plastic communication of detailed geographical knowledge.

Ostrich Egg Globe (1504)

The ostrich-egg-globe provided a material rendering of the inhabited world that gave considerable concreteness to its more exotic regions, lending each region a solidity detailed with landscape views.  Notwithstanding limited accuracy of measurement in the carefully etched shorelines, it has a wonderful solidity and materiality about the engraved surface of the egg-shell globe in such compelling detail, which suggest a deep investment in the legibility of the globe’s expanse.  The humanistic capital letters engraved with exactitude upon the surface of two halves of ostrich egg shells, cut and rejoined along the equatorial line:  much as the copper halves of the Lenox globe are two conjoined hemispheres, tied together by a string from each pole, the spherical globe emphasized the equatorial line as a basis to assemble its etched surface, but showed a wonderfully detached “Hispaniola,” lightly floating northwards of a bulky Brazil.  (It’s interesting that Missinne attempted to tie the globe to Leonardo da Vinci’s school–if not to his person–although from what we know of his life, Leonardo never engraved, though he requested his assistant prepare engraved images of the human body’s anatomy in copperplate, rather than wood, revealing his familiarity with the medium.)  The globe fits within a known cartographical tradition that was perhaps accessible to Leonardo–indeed, the majority cartographical models available in early sixteenth century Europe were diffused by engravings, either in wood or, more rarely at this point, copperplate.

Although the image of the Americas is but a set of islands above the vast expanse of the ‘other continent’ to the south, the detailed shoreline and vaguely mountainous interior of the modern South American emphasize a clear sense of materiality as much as foreignness–much as the possession of the globe seems intentionally designed to communicate.  Unlike the large wall maps that distill similar cartographical sources, the sense of expanse is not abstracted, but has a solidity, even on the airy eggshell surface, as a commodity and an object of treasure that would be at home in a cabinet of curiosity; the globe included Japan, Latin America. Brazil and Arabia, as if to note the provenance of other wonders, as much as to communicate the accurate measurement of a global expanse.  The assemblage of global space is unlike the stippled ocean of the 1507 Ptolemaic world map or the indication of shorelines in the 1511 Venetian world map of Sylvanus, both of which suggested the curvature of the world in engravings that clearly referenced the rendering of expanse on a spherical globe’s surface, as well as a Ptolemaic format of map-projection.

Sylvanus Clima

The Venetian edition of Sylvanus magnified Brazil’s coastline disproportionate to the islands of Hispaniola, exaggerating its dependence on nautical charts, to suggests a material entirety and completeness, an influential attempt to expand the place of the Americas in the surface of the inhabited world, using Portuguese charts that noted Africa’s circumnavigation; the world map of the cartographer and illuminator Johannes Ruysch, may draw from voyages on English ships, and map Newfoundland in relation to the New World.

Ruysch world map

In each of these individual instances, the Ptolemaic format of projection emphasizes its rendering of nautical expanse in this hand-colored copy of a two-page terrestrial projection, and gave far more accuracy to the coastlines of Africa and South America, which its publisher praised as “painstaking . . . in delineating the globe[‘s surface]” and skilled for its artifice, suggesting not only the mechanical construction of the planisphere but its knowledge of the proportional relations among its regions and parts, and relations between its meridianal zones, or tropics, and Ptolemaic indices of terrestrial projection, that situated the image within a strongly lettered tradition.


Or the 1511 map of Ptolemy’s Geography, also incorporating Portuguese sea charts, Sylvanus adapted Ptolemaic artifice by using bending the graticule to distribute nautical discoveries on the measured curvature of earth’s surface in a compelling distribution of spatial relations, made extra legible by its use of two colors of ink–but closely tied the manufacturing of the global map to a written tradition of Ptolemaic geography:


The ostrich-egg globe especially contrasts to the triumphalism of his wall-map of four by eight feet, or the reduction of the expanse of the inhabited world in the gores Waldsemüller first designed in 1507, just after the proposed date of the ostrich-globe, as graphic forms to assemble rudimentary globes of meridians and parallels, and which were reprinted in a second edition, viewable below.

The ostrich-egg globe is distinct from these theoretical tools, or the more expansive and triumphal mapping of the world that included the image of Amerigo Vespucci, assigning the name “America” to that continent, and naming it, above “Spagnolla insula,” as a fourth continent, in ways no doubt tied to the eggshell globe.

Spagnolla Insula

The artists or engravers who designed  the ‘gores’ to assemble such globes are unknown; so are those responsible for the expansive twelve-sheet wall map Waldseemüller helped draft for his humanist patron Matthias Ringmann.  But their craft reveal an intellectual scope to picture the new continent for viewers whose relations could be readily judged by informed viewers.

The visual arrangment of the contours of continents more earthy and less abstract view of space etched in the ostrich-egg globe.  While without indices to determine spatial relations, it derives from a flurry of experimentation to capture in different media the curiosity of the New World for socially elevated audiences outside those who might speculate on the relations between the expanse of the globe Ptolemy had described from a description of global expanse–and who demanded expertise in a Ptolemaic ‘art’ to render expanse.

The ostrich egg-globe creates as sense of the materiality of geographic evidence of an era before the expansion of cartographical detail in the wall maps themselves.  Rather than suggesting the intensive investment and work of one man, such as Waldseemüller, who labored to reconcile the Ptolemaic and Columban concepts of global extent, and frame Europe, Asia, and Africa by two insular strips of Cipangu and Hispaniola, as if to create harmony within the new configuration of the sublunary terrestrial continents that reflect the expanding map on a globe, and to provide the clearest reconciliation of Ptolemaic projections and nautical charts:


Waldseemüller’s multi-sheet wall-map of four by six feet assigns a heroic role of the cosmographer as a robed and world-weary scholar, with his head is situated among those of the winds, who creates the map with compass in hand, here identified as the academically robed mapmaker Vespucci–whose findings provided the basis for the new world map–

Vespucci as world-weary robed cosmographer

–or map an archipelago-like expanse of islands of proportions and situation determined by a meridians and parallels.  The naming of space is less dependent on their calculation in relation to tropics and precise degrees of meridians–

Spagnolla Insula

The placement of its landmasses on an etched suggests a far less prominent or conspicuous announcement of a new continent, to be sure, than a surface removed by sea, and a translation of geographic language into a register of wonders.


The ostrich-egg globe, lastly, suggests the need to identify the variety of compelling contexts to read maps as curiosities as well as indexed documents, ordering geographic space for new audiences by practices transmitted across networks of collaboration–rather than as idealized geometric forms. It is interesting to examine why Ptolemaic artifice is less on display in either of the globes, also made from marine charts.  Identical in most aspects to the Hunt-Lennox globe in the New York Public Library, which was made of conjoined halves of copper connected by a thread at its poles, the eggshell globe poses questions about the artifice by which it mediated the coherence of terrestrial expanse to different audiences of readers–oriented them to a totality of terrestrial expanse they could never hope to know at first hand, clearly privileging its ordered nature but not reducing it to indices.  The tacit ordering of its surface suggests the elite audience that its anonymous designer addressed.

Lenox Globe NYPL

The smaller globes discussed above experimented with forms of representing expanse on maps to find solutions for translating expanse to communities of viewers tacitly familiar with forms of ordering space within a map, but with little interest in registering or designating location on coordinates.
Waldseemüller participated in a broader learned culture that converted maps of nautical derivation, such as the world-map of Henricus Martellus, to forms that had status within a humanist tradition of classical learning.  His engraving let authority to the spaciousness of world maps as containers able to hold a copious range of information that they were able to condense, conveying a record of the immensity of global expanse in a single, continuous, synthetic form.  The elegant engraving of the shell of an ostrich egg reveals a huge investment in crafting a surface whose contents could be readily scanned, echoing the unique planispheres that Rosselli elegantly produced, and perhaps revealing the major role that Rosselli’s work played in its production.

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Filed under Mapping America, mapping discoveries, Mapping the New World, New World, Renaissance Discoveries

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