Wednesday, February 15, 2017

John Dee's Fantastic Map of 1582

John Dee (1527-1608) was an English alchemist, astrologer, astronomer, mathematician, and practitioner of the occult arts. He lived at a time when the occult and science were just beginning to be separated and Dee had a foot firmly planted in both worlds, being an expert in both arcane and scientific knowledge.

His erudite and wide-ranging abilities gave him a prominent place in Elizabethan England; he served periodically as Queen Elizabeth’s advisor and tutor, and he was well connected with, among others, William Cecil, Sir Philip Sidney, Robert Dudley, and Sir Humphrey Gilbert.

In the 1570s, the Elizabethans had turned their eyes to the lands and seas west of the British Isles. Martin Frobisher was seeking a passage around the norther end of North America—-the famous Northwest Passage-—and Sir Humphrey Gilbert was applying for letters patent to colonize the continent north of the Spanish in Florida, which he received on June 11, 1578. Dee was an important figure in the world of Tudor geography.

For an extended period, from about 1551 to 1583, Dee was an advisor for English voyages of discovery, to the Northeast and to the Northwest, including for the Muscovy Company. He helped to instruct a number of notable English captains, including Richard Chancellor, Stephen and William Borough, Martin Frobisher, Humphrey Gilbert, John Davis, and Walter Raleigh, and he may have been an advisor for Drake's voyage around the world. His 1577 Perfect Arte of Navigation (more a geography and propaganda for the English empire than a science of navigation) was originally intended as part of a larger work, a general history of discoveries.

Interestingly, Dee actually coined the term “British Empire,” though in his case “British” referred to the earlier inhabitants of the islands, for he argued that the mythical Prince Madoc had discovered North America, establishing first rights to the continent for the English.

Dee was also a cartographer, having studied with the great Gerard Mercator. He drew a number of manuscript maps, including one of the North America in 1580 for Queen Elizabeth. About 1582, he prepared a map of the northern hemisphere with a polar projection for Humphrey Gilbert (shown above). His depiction of the North Pole was based on Mercator’s map of that region, about which Mercator had written to Dee in 1577, explaining his sources. The rest of the map seems to be drawn for propaganda purposes, promoting various possible ways to sail to “Cathaia,” which is shown opposite Great Britain. The map depicts various open waterways to the East, including routes north of both Scandinavia and Russia, and North America.

The most extraordinary part of the map, clearly demonstrating Dee’s fixation on water routes, is the rendering of North America, which is a veritable Swiss cheese of rivers and lakes. Dee shows the Sea of Verrazano, approaching very close to the Atlantic in the region of Virginia, but there are also numerous other waterways interlacing the continent. He shows a very early version of a non-existent lake in the southeast, with a river flowing into the Atlantic, with two other rivers entering this lake on its western shore: one connecting the lake with the Gulf of Mexico and one flowing all the way from northern Mexico. To the north of the Sea of Verrazano flows the St. Lawrence, a branch of which connects to that sea and another of which flows to a large gulf on the northern coastline of the continent.

To the west of Hochelaga (where Montreal is today) is a large lake, out of the west of which a river extends to the northern end of the Gulf of California. Interestingly, another river extends from the Gulf of California to the northwest, while a river on the northwest coast of America flows to the east past the mythical city of Quivira, reaching toward, but not quite meeting the other river. Whether these rivers actually meet is left somewhat vague, perhaps Dee hinting at the notion of California as an island, which wouldn’t be definitely shown on maps for another four decades.

Dee’s map shows the geographic notions floating around England at the end of the sixteenth century. Part of the reason they wanted to settle North America was to have a base for the believed-to-exist route to the Pacific, and looking at this map this makes a lot of sense. Of course, they were quite wrong and it wasn’t too long before the English focused most of their attention on the search for the Northwest Territory. However, the concept of a more southerly water route across the continent did not die for several centuries yet, next being taken up by the French and their search for a ‘River of the West.’

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Correcting errors on prints

Carpenter's Emancipation Proclamation

Because prints are printed from a physical matrix made of wood, metal or stone, all of which can be modified (some more easily than others), there are often print variants created by a modification to a matrix for some reason or other. Some of those modifications are because an error was made.

A nice example of this is Charles Fenerich's print of the Washington Monument. The original version of the print misspelled "Washington" as "Wasihngton," but once this was realized, the lithographic stone was correct to spell the city name properly. Early, mistaken versions of prints are often appealing to collectors, but this print was the object of either a complete miscalculation or a scam, for back in 2002 an owner of the first version was trying to convince people his print was worth $2 million! (I wrote about that story in an earlier blog)

This blog was prompted by a close inspection of one of my favorite prints which we just acquired, Francis Carpenter's engraving of Lincoln reading the Emancipation Proclamation to his Cabinet (shown at the top). This is a print which I have handled probably six or seven times over the last three decades and it wasn't until today that I noticed what is clearly the correction of an error in the engraving.

If one looks closely at the engraving of Lincoln's left foot, one can see the faint outline of a different shape for his boot. The boot seems to have been originally engraved so that it was turned a bit towards Lincoln's right, but the finished engraving has the boot coming fairly straight ahead. This ghost image is the result of the steel plate not being completely smoothed out before it was reengraved with the new boot. One can only speculate why the boot was changed--probably a proof was run off and the boot just didn't look right--but this ghost image is an interesting shadow of the process of making a print like this.

An interesting question is whether this print was ever issued with the original boot. I have checked every image I can find and have not seen one before the correction. It is, of course, possible some were run off and exist somewhere. It would be fun to find one of these sometime, and there would be a premium in value for this "first state" (if it exists), however, I think that value would be well less than $2 million...

Friday, January 20, 2017

Presidential Prints

January 20th, 2017 is a somber day, when the United States inaugurates its 58th president, Donald J. Trump. Whatever your political outlook, this is an important event, placing a new occupant in to what is often called the most powerful office in the world. Mr. Trump will enter into a small brotherhood (still) of individuals, the membership of which has ranged from those who rose to the occasion to reach greatness, and those whose tenure has blessedly passed. It is helpful to look at this mixed cast of characters to put Trump’s inauguration into perspective.

One of the great things about antique historical prints is that they give us a unique view of how people in the past viewed their own time. Prints reflected the opinions of their makers, but as they were usually produced with the intent of either influencing public opinion or at least making money by fitting the public’s opinions enough to sell well, they also often reflect popular attitudes towards their subjects. This is, naturally, very true of prints of American presidents.

Historic prints of American presidents are quite interesting. They started, of course, with prints of George Washington. Washington was almost universally respected as a moral and military figure right from the beginning, so most contemporary portraits show him in a noble pose.

Sacred to the Memory of Washington

When Washington died, the nation mourned deeply and contemporary prints were issued showing the sorrow of the country,

Apotheosis of Washington

and others showed Washington rising to heaven to his place of immortality.

Middleton portrait of Lincoln

After his assassination, Abraham Lincoln achieved a similar heroic place in the nation’s heart, which led to the production of many, many noble portraits of Lincoln which hung in thousands of homes around the country. A good example of this are the portraits of Lincoln issued by E.C. Middleton, about which I wrote in an earlier blog.

Currier & Ives of Washington & Lincoln

One way that printmakers showed Lincoln’s character as one of the “great” presidents was to associate him with the clearly “great” George Washington. Currier & Ives issued this fun print showing the two presidents shaking hands,

while other prints depicted Washington welcoming Lincoln to heaven.

Family Monument of Our Country

By being inaugurated into the nation’s top office, each president achieves at least the status of membership in this august body and this is shown in the many prints which show all the presidents together. The importance of these men (still) was often emphasized by a prominent depiction of the noble Washington, standing, as it were, at the head of this fellowship.

It will be interesting to see how our newest president will be treated by contemporary prints and those in the future...

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Looking for a way to the Orient

For Europeans, the “Orient” had long been the source for highly desired and very scarce goods, such as silk and spices. Trade with China and “the Indies” was the font of vast wealth for those who controlled even part of that trade, for instance the cities of Venice and Genoa in the medieval period. Eastern goods arrived in Europe via the Middle East along the Silk Road. In 1453, Europeans received a mighty jolt when the Ottoman Turks captured Constantinople and essentially cut off this trade.

This led to an urgent search for a new route to the Orient—-by water rather than land-—which was led initially by the Portuguese, whose Henry the Navigator sent explorers down the African coast beginning the early fifteenth century both to build Portuguese trade in that continent, but also to find a sea route to Asia. These voyages culminated in Vasco da Gama’s 1497-98 expedition which rounded the Cape of Good Hope and was the first to reach India by sea.

Contrary to a common misconception, most Europeans in the fifteenth century knew that the earth was spherical, which would mean that the “Orient” could be reached not only by sailing east, but also by heading in the opposite direction. However, most Europeans also thought that the earth was considerably smaller than it is. When this was combined with the mistaken belief that Eurasia was considerably wider than it is, this led to the erroneous conclusion that the east coast of Asia would be only about three thousand miles west of Europe (the actual distance is about 12,000 miles).

This misconception is wonderfully depicted in the earliest known terrestrial globe, Martin Behaim’s “Erdapfel” (Earth Apple) from 1492. This globe shows a relatively narrow ocean separating Europe and Asia, filled with no landmass larger than “Cipangu” (Japan), making a sea voyage from Europe to “Cathaja” (Cathay) look eminently practical.

The difficulty and length of the sea voyage to the Orient around Africa, led Florentine philosopher Paolo Toscanelli to suggest in 1474 that there were several advantages to sailing westward to Asia rather than eastward. One of the main proponents of this concept was Christopher Columbus, who spent years trying to get backing from the Portuguese, Venetians, English and Spanish for his plan to sail west to the Orient. Finally, in 1492, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain agreed to sponsor what would become Columbus’ epic voyage to the “New World.”

Columbus, of course, was looking for Asia (which he died thinking he had discovered), but the promised riches never appeared and it soon became obvious that the newly discovered lands were not the hoped for Orient. Initially these lands, which came to be known as the Americas, appeared to be conspicuously lacking in riches and so they were considered to be mere roadblocks on what was a hoped for, soon to be discovered, sea route to Cathay and the Indies.

Columbus was soon followed in this quest by John Cabot, who in 1496 set off from England, with a commission from Henry VII to explore to the west of the British Isles, again seeking to find a way to the Orient and hoping the narrower degrees of longitude would make the voyage a bit shorter. Leading a number of expeditions, Cabot did reach America, but found no evidence of any way to Asia. The English did not give up on their search for a water route to the Orient, but their efforts soon turned to looking for a Northwest Passage around the northern end of the continent, efforts which proved fruitless.

Further south, a number of voyages were sent out in the early sixteenth century to probe north and south of initial landfalls in the West Indies, expeditions which found that a very large landmass (South America) blocked any practical route to the south (Magellan’s voyage finally rounded that continent in 1520) and that the Gulf of Mexico blocked any route directly to the west. In 1524, Giovanni da Verrazano set out to explore, for King Francis of France, the area lying between Florida and Terranova, looking for a way around the blocking lands further to the north.

From March to June, Verrazano sailed from the northern part of today’s Florida to Newfoundland, making many discoveries, such as New York and Narragansett Bays. The ships of the day could not point close to the wind at all, so Verrazano could not sail right up the coast, but had to beat out to sea and then back in towards land, meaning he saw only a series of discontinuous sections of the North American coast. This explains why Verrazano missed discovering both the Chesapeake and Delaware bays.

Early in this voyage of discovery, Verrazano came upon one of the barrier islands of North Carolina. He did not see any of the gaps between the islands, but did see what looked to be a vast body of water across what he took to be an isthmus of land. As the whole point of his exploration was to find a route past the Americas, the Pacific Ocean stayed always in the front of Verrazano’s mind, and this caused him to jump to the conclusion that that body of water was the ocean. As he wrote in a letter to King Francis:

We called it Annunciato from the day of arrival, where was found an isthmus a mile in width and about 200 long, in which from the ship, was seen the oriental sea between the west [corrected from ‘east’ in the text] and north. Which is the one, without doubt, which goes about the extremity of India, China and Cathay. We navigated along the said isthmus with the continual hope of finding some strait or true promontory at which the land would end toward the north in order to be able to penetrate to those blessed shores of Cathay.”

As a result of Verrazano’s report, this concept—-that somewhere along today’s American southeastern coast, there was an arm of the Pacific Ocean separated from the Atlantic only by a narrow isthmus—-entered into the European understanding of the region, for what better source could there be than a first-hand report? This hypothesis was reinforced by a manuscript map drawn by Verrazano’s brother, Girolamo, which showing this “Sea of Verrazano” in graphic fashion.

Though this Sea of Verrazano seemed like it might prove to be a good route to the Orient, the French subsequently turned their eyes further north. In 1534, Jacques Cartier received a commission from King Francis to sail west to “discover certain islands and lands where it is said that a great quantity of gold and other precious things are to be found,” that is, find the route to China and the Indies. Cartier explored Newfoundland and the shores of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and on a second expedition the following year, he sailed down the St. Lawrence River as far as rapids at today’s Montreal. Though he went no further, Cartier was convinced that the St. Lawrence was the waterway which would lead to the Pacific, with the rapids being the only thing stopping him from sailing right to the Orient.

It is ironic that over a century later these rapids were named “Lachine”—that is La Chine, or China. It seems that in 1669, Robert Cavelier de La Salle set off from this location on an expedition to seek the still sought-for route to China. After about a thousand miles of travel in the interior of the country, with no likely route in sight, about two dozen of La Salle’s men deserted, arriving back at their starting point three or four months after starting out. Supposedly the amused locals thus gave the rapids the ironic name of “La Chine.”

Turning back to the Sea of Verrazano, the first attempts to establish a colony in the American southeast was by the English, who in 1585 attempted to establish a “Virginia” colony in order to mine for gold and silver, harass the Spanish and look for the route to the Pacific Ocean still believed to lie close at hand in the area. This colony failed, but in 1606, King James gave a charter for another attempt, and this resulted in the settlement of Jamestown, the first permanent English colony in America.

The supposed close proximity of the Pacific Ocean was brought into question as the colonist explored the Chesapeake and its rivers, but the belief was not killed. Part of the instructions for the new colonist was to seek out a river by which “you shall soonest find the other sea,” that is the Pacific, and they believed that while not right at hand, it wasn’t that far distant. This is delightfully demonstrated by John Farrer’s map of Virginia from 1651. Farrer was a member of the Royal Company of Virginia and his map shows the colony with a western orientation, the mid-Atlantic coast running along the bottom edge.

At the top is of the map is “The Sea of China and the Indies,” which not only looks to be very close to the Atlantic coast, but is so indicated in a legend which states that its “happy shores” are “within ten days march...from the head of the James River.” An alternative, water route is shown with the source of the Hudson River separated only by a narrow land bridge from a river which flowed directly into the Pacific.

Further exploration by English and French colonists demonstrated that the Pacific Ocean was not near at hand. By the end of the seventeenth century, while there was still hope of finding a practical water route to the Orient, it was realized that it would no longer be by way of a river or body of water which originated near the east coast. Searches for a route to the Orient continued, but they started thereafter from the Great Lakes, not from the Atlantic Ocean.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Philosophical Geographic Features

My original career path, oh those many years ago, was to become a professional philosopher. I was introduced to the world of antique maps and prints, and decided that a career in that field would be a lot of fun and offered more chances of actually earning a living. However, I have never lost my interest in and love of philosophy. Recently I was reading about an early map of the Carolina colony and came across a reference to one of my favorite philosophers, John Locke, who actually had an island named after him!

I have been able to find only two other geographic names which are taken from philosophers, Carla-Bayle in France, named after French philosopher Pierre Bayle, and Berkeley, California, named after Anglo-Irish philosopher George Berkeley. Unfortunately, though Locke did have an island named after him, none such exists today; the history of this makes an interesting story.

John Locke (1632-1704), was one of the great philosophers of the Enlightenment, especially in the fields of epistemology and political philosophy. After getting his degree at Oxford University, Locke stayed on there until 1666, when he met Lord Anthony Ashley Cooper, the 1st Earl of Shaftesbury. Lord Ashley went to Oxford to seek help with a liver infection and he was impressed with Locke’s treatment. (Later Locke persuaded the Earl to have an operation on his liver, which probably saved his life).

The Earl asked Locke to join his retinue, and in 1667, Locke moved to Exeter House in London, Lord Ashley’s home. Locke became an important part of the Earl’s household and he was appointed Secretary to two important bodies which Shaftesbury belonged to. One was the Lords of Trade and Plantation, which was a committee of the Royal Privy Council set up to advise on issues related to the newly established British colonies.

The other was the Lords Proprietors of Carolina. This was a body of eight nobles, including Lord Ashley, who had assisted Charles II in the restoration of the English throne in 1660, to whom Charles granted the rights to create a Province of Carolina in 1663. Their initial attempt at colonization failed, but they were finally successful, beginning with the founding of the Charles Town settlement in 1670.

Locke was heavily involved in this new colony, drafting the Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina, as well writing various instruction to the colonists on how to make sure their actions in the new colony were consistent with the document. This was not Locke’s shining moment, for though he elsewhere wrote against aristocracy and slavery, the Constitutions, enshrined both of these in Carolina.

The same year that the Charles Town settlement was established, John Ogilby, a Scottish dancing master and publisher, was preparing to issue an illustrated volume, America, containing a history and description of the New World. This was mostly a direct translation of a contemporary Dutch book by Arnold Montanus, who is not mentioned at all by Ogilby, and almost all the illustrations were those included by Montanus. However, in order to make his publication more attractive to his intended English audience, Ogilby sought the latest new information on the English possessions in America, adding fresh text and four new maps, of Maryland, Jamaica, Barbados, and Carolina.

As Carolina was just in the process of being settled, and by some very influential figures, Ogilby was keen to include information and a map of the colony. Thus he approached Peter Colleton, the brother of one of the Proprietors, John Colleton, who wrote to John Locke, as secretary to Lord Ashley, requesting a map he could use in his book.

To my honoured frend Mr. John Lock
Mr. Ogilby who is printing a relation of the West Indies hath been often wth mee to gett a map of Carolina wherefore I humbly desire you to gett of my lord [Ashley] those mapps of Cape feare & Albermarlee that he hath & I will drawn them into one wth that of port Royal & waite upon my lord for the nominations of the rivers, &c.

Locke was able to provide a map to Ogilby, who used it to make a new map for his volume, commonly called “The First Lord Proprietors Map.” From Locke, the map includes many names taken from the Lord Proprietors, including Craven County, Colleton River, Berkeley County, Ashley River, Cooper River, Cape Carteret, and Albemarle County.

Another name which appears on the map is “Locke Iland,” located near the mouth of the Edisto and Ashepoo Rivers. Based on very early exploration of the region, the map shows only a single island there, whereas there are actually several. Later explorations revealed this to map makers, and so the single “Locke Iland” was removed, along with its name. There is a large island right in that spot, Edisto Island, which is actually shaped much like Locke Island on the map, but none-the-less, Locke’s brief claim to geographic fame was removed soon after it was introduced.

A few other maps, such as John Speed’s from 1676, showed the island, but it wasn’t long before the newer maps no longer showed this philosophical isle.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Creating Colorado Territory

In 1854, a two large territories, Kansas and Nebraska, were created in the previously unorganized lands lying between the Continental Divide and the states and territories lining the western side of the Mississippi River, extending from the 37th degree latitude to the Canadian border. Kansas Territory lay to the west of Missouri; at the western edge of the territory rose the Rocky Mountains, with the majority of the territory consisting of an undeveloped Great Plains. It was only the eastern parts of the territory, near the Missouri border, which were settled by Anglo-Americans, the rest of the territory almost exclusively inhabited by nomadic Indian tribes.

In 1858, gold was discovered along the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, near the confluence of the South Platte River and Cherry Creek. As thousands flooded into the area, in what was called the Pike’s Peak gold rush, settlements (such as Denver City) were established and the population boomed. This area was located well away from the Kansas territorial government far to the east, and the locals realized that their interests were not necessarily the same as the interests of those located in the eastern part of the territory. Besides there was no machinery available for the enforcement of law & order, a real concern to those who hoped to make their fortune. Thus these miners and other settlers wanted a new territory to be carved out of the western part of Kansas, to provide local government.


A delegation was sent to Washington for the creation of such a territory. On January 6, 1859, Schuyler Colfax, representative from Illinois, introduced a bill in Congress to organize a “Territory of Colona” along the eastern slope of the Rockies. The territory was to include the western-most parts of Kansas and Nebraska as far north as the 42nd parallel, as well as the northeastern part of New Mexico. This name was taken from the Spanish for Columbus and the New York Times stated that this name was favored by the settlers of the area.

This new territory lay north of the 36° 30’ latitude line, and by the Missouri Compromise of 1850 this meant that slavery would be prohibited there. In this period of great conflict in the country over the question of slavery, there was no way Southerners in Congress would allow the creation of such a new “free” territory, so there were not enough votes to support Colfax’s bill and the territory was never created.


The desire by citizens of the front range for a local territory continued however, and a group of prominent citizens met on April 15, 1859 in Uncle Dick Wootton's Tavern in Auraria, voting to try to organize a new, local government. A convention was held to draft a constitution for a state of Jefferson, but this was rejected in a popular referendum, many feeling that a state would prove to be too much of a financial burden. Proponents tried again, this time drafting a constitution for a territory of Jefferson, which was subsequently approved by referendum on October 24, 1859.

The constitution was adopted, government bodies established, including a territorial legislature that met and elected Robert W. Steele as provisional governor. Meanwhile, Beverly D. Williams was sent to Washington as a representative of the territory, but Congress refused his petition. Still, a Jefferson government did operate for about sixteen months, though it has been said to have "remained extralegal, factious, and semieffective." (Historical Atlas of Colorado) The territory as proposed would have been considerably larger than today's Colorado, encompassing more of Utah and much of Wyoming.

Governor Steele tried to reach an accord with the territorial government of Kansas to recognize Jefferson, as well as petitioning Congress to the same end, but neither effort succeeded. With the election of Lincoln in November 1860, all chance of Congress recognizing Jefferson ended, for Steele was a Democratic foe of Lincoln and the Republican Party.

However, after all the Southern Congressmen left the government with their state's secession in early 1861, Congress swiftly created a new, free state of Kansas out of the eastern part of the territory, leaving the western part unorganized. Shortly thereafter, Congress organized a new territory out of the lands, as well as part of southwestern Nebraska, eastern Utah and northeastern New Mexico. As Thomas Jefferson, a Southerner, was not popular in Congress in early 1861, the new territory was named Colorado.


Neither Colona nor Jefferson were ever recognized by the Federal government and so never officially existed. However, that does not mean that they did not appear on contemporary maps. Mapmakers hated to have their maps not up-to-date. Any map that did not include a depiction of a newly created territory would be considered out-of-date, and because there was a time delay between when the map was drawn and when it was published, mapmakers tended to jump the gun a bit with potential new territories. They kept their ears to the ground to learn as soon as possible about new territories that might be created by Congress, and if a mapmaker believed that such a new political entity was about to be approved, he would put it on the map even before the bill was actually passed. If the territory was created, his map would be amazingly current, ahead of his competitors, and if it never came into existence, the mapmaker just hoped no one noticed.

This happened to both Colona and Jefferson, which appeared in various forms on a number of maps, and in fact together on some maps. These are not the only American chimeric territories to appear on nineteenth century maps, and maps showing such are always popular with collectors. If you ever come across a map of the western U.S. from 1859 to early 1861, take a look to see if either of these territories appears. Click here to see maps with Colona or Jefferson Territories in the inventory of The Philadelphia Print Shop West.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Historic Maps of Spain

I was lucky enough to visit Spain this summer and in order to prepare for my trip, I read a history of the country. This history had a fair number of pictures in it, but no maps, which I found to be a great oversight. I think that maps are essential for any history. Not only do they give visual context for the events you read about, but maps contemporary to the history being read also let you see the places being described through the eyes of those alive at the time. As I read the history, I kept turning to look at period maps of Spain and found this really enhanced my understanding and interest in the topic.

Spain was, of course, a land known quite well in ancient times. The Phoenicians and Greeks settled along the coasts as early as the 9th century BCE and the Romans conquered what they called Hispania in 19 BCE. The earliest regional maps we have of Europe are those which were described by Claudius Ptolemy about 150 CE. We know of no examples of Ptolemy’s maps which were actually drawn before about the 13th century, but these maps—which were printed in great numbers from the late fifteenth through mid-sixteenth century—were at least based on Ptolemy’s original text and show us the Roman understanding of the places depicted. Thus, when we look at a Ptolemaic map of the Iberian Peninsula, such as this map of Hispania from 1542, we can see Spain as it was understood during the Roman Empire.

Munster Spain & Portugal

Of course, by the end of the fifteenth century, Europeans had better geographic information about their own continent than was included on the century and a half old Ptolemaic maps. It is interesting that in many of the same atlases which included Ptolemaic maps, the publisher also included a “modern” map of the same place. The map above, showing Spain as understood by Sebastian Munster—one of the greatest cartographers of his day—was issued in the same 1542 atlas as the previous Ptolemaic map. This map was issued when Spain was entering its period of greatest glory, not long after the Reconquista of 1492 and during the reign of Charles I, also ruler of the Holy Roman Empire.

As the sixteenth century moved on, Spain grew wealthier—from the richest pouring in from the Americas—and European cartographers began to produce better and better maps. In 1571, Carolus Clusius produced a large, six sheet map of the Iberian Peninsula, which included an amazing amount of detail of the many cities and towns throughout Spain. This was copied by Abraham Ortelius in a single sheet map (above). This shows Spain when it was the most feared nation in Europe, during the reign of Philip II and just before the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588.

With Philip II’s death in 1598, Philip III began his over two decade reign. Spain still was one of the most powerful nations in Europe, though it was weakened by its involvement in the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648). The situation of Spain at the time is beautifully evidenced in this map from about 1610. It includes the Royal Crest, images of major cities, figures along the sides in typical dress of the period, and a portrait of Philip III at the bottom center. This map graphically conveys the power and glory of Spain in a manner no text can do. This, and the other maps above, are just a few examples of how maps can provide a rich texture to the history of any place in the world.

To see a selection of maps of Spain, visit The Philadelphia Print Shop West's web site.