1755 Covens and Mortier Map of America w/ Sea of the West
Description: An uncommon variant on Guillaume Delisle's map of America incorporating theories regarding the Sea of the West. Delisle's map covers both North and South America as well as the West Indies, the Atlantic Ocean, and parts of Africa and Europe, including England, Ireland, France, Italy, and Spain. It is no accident that Delisle chose to include these few Western European nations, for his goal was not only to represent the New World, but to express both connection and continuity with the Old World. To bring this further into context, Delisle includes the Treaty of Tordesillas Line running vertically through the Grand Banks and South America. This line, drawn in 1494 by Pope Alexandre VI (the map incorrectly states 1493), was intended to divide the New World between Portugal and Spain.
This map was first issued by Delisle in 1722 and quickly became one of the most published maps of the 18th century, passing through numerous states and editions. The present example represents the sixth state and a particularly scarce variant, updated to incorporate the Sea of the West - a concept increasing popular among European speculative of positivistic cartographers of the mid-18th century. The Sea of the West is most often presented as a vast inland body of water, often with islands, situated somewhere north of California and west of Lake Winnipeg. It is derived from a combination of wishful thinking, fictitious memoires, and misinterpretation of factual exploration. As presented here, the Sea of the West extends inland from entrances associated with the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Martin de Aguilar, both factual explorers. Aguilar, sailing in 1682, apparently sited a 'rapid and abundant' river that he could not explore because of the swift current and dangerous entrance - could there be a finer description of the Columbia? Be that as it may, European powers, particularly the English and the French, relished the idea of a large inland sea that would enable them to transport their goods, mostly furs, more easily to the rich markets of Asia. As things stood in the mid-18th century, merchants carrying goods had to either sail around South America, risking pirates or worse, or negotiate with the Spanish who operated a lucrative trade route through Mexico to Acapulco, and thence to Asia.
Delisle here even goes so far as to situate the mythical golden city of Quivira on the banks of the Sea - possibly a nod to Aguilar, who was indeed searching for it despite the fact that the actual and disappointing Quivira was situated in the Great Plains (near Kansas) where it was discovered by Franciso Vasquez de Coronado in 1540. Other mythical western kingdoms are also noted, particularly Teguayo, here spelled Teguaio, situated in a mountain valley northwest of Sante Fe. Teguayo was a speculative kingdom of gold first imagined by the missionary Benevides, but popularized a generation later by the Spanish count and con-artist Don Diego Dionisio de Penalosa, who exaggerated the glories of Teguayo in order to further his own political agenda with the Kings of Spain and France.
In South America, Delisle maps the Laguna de Xarayes as the source of the Paraguay River. The Xarayes, a corruption of 'Xaraies' meaning 'Masters of the River', were an indigenous people occupying what are today parts of Brazil's Matte Grosso and the Pantanal. When Spanish and Portuguese explorers first navigated up the Paraguay River, as always in search of El Dorado, they encountered the vast Pantanal flood plain at the height of its annual inundation. Understandably misinterpreting the flood plain as a gigantic inland sea, they named it after the local inhabitants, the Xaraies. The Laguna de los Xarayes almost immediately began to appear on early maps of the region and, at the same time, almost immediately took on a legendary aspect. Later missionaries and chroniclers, particularly Díaz de Guzman, imagined an island in this lake and curiously identified it as an 'Island of Paradise,'
...an island [of the Paraguay River] more than ten leagues [56 km] long, two or three [11-16 km] wide. A very mild land rich in a thousand types of wild fruit, among them grapes, pears and olives: the Indians created plantations throughout, and throughout the year sow and reap with no difference in winter or summer, ... the Indians of that island are of good will and are friends to the Spaniards; Orejon they call them, and they have their ears pierced with wheels of wood ... which occupy the entire hole. They live in round houses, not as a village, but each apart though keep up with each other in much peace and friendship. They called of old this island Land of Paradise for its abundance and wonderful qualities.To the north of the 'Island of Paradise' appeared the 'Puerto de los Reyes' which was considered to be a gateway to the Amazon and the Kingdom of el Dorado. D'Anville, to his credit, shows the 'Laguna' and its island in a much reduced form compared to earlier cartographers and also comments that its existence is 'dubious'.
This map also contains a number of other curious elements, including a maelstrom situated in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. We have identified no other map to show this curious whirlpool; nevertheless, Delisle is unlikely to have imagined it and no doubt drew it from actual mariner's reports. Interestingly modern scientists have recently identified two massive whirlpools in the South Atlantic. While not permanent these whirlpools are known last several months before dissipating. One can only wonder if Delisle discovered 18th century record of this recently rediscovered phenomenon?
This map was issued by Covens and Mortier for the 1755 edition of the Atlas Nouveau.
Date: 1755 (undated)
References: Tooley, R.V., Mapping of America, page 14, plate 3. Rumsey 4638.092 (1736).
Cartographer: The Amsterdam publishing firm of Covens and Mortier (1721 - c. 1862) was the successor to the extensive publishing empire built by Frenchman Pierre Mortier (1661 - 1711). Upon Mortier's death in 1711 his firm was taken over by his son, Cornelius Mortier (1699 - 1783). Cornelius married the sister of Johannes Covens (1697 - 1774) in 1821 and, partnering with his brother in law, established the Covens and Mortier firm. Under the Covens and Mortier imprint, Cornelius and Pierre republished the works of the great 17th and early 18th century Dutch and French cartographers De L'Isle, Allard, Jansson, De Wit, and Ottens among others. They quickly became one of the largest and most prolific Dutch publishing concerns of the 18th century. The firm and its successors published thousands of maps over a 120 year period from 1721 to the mid-1800s. During their long lifespan the Covens and Mortier firm published as Covens and Mortier (1721-1778), J. Covens and Son (1778 - 94) and Mortier, Covens and Son (1794 - c. 1862). Click here for a list of rare maps from Covens and Mortier.
Cartographer: The De L'Isle family (fl. c. 1700 - c. 1760) (also written Delisle) were, in composite, a mapmaking tour de force who redefined early 18th century European cartography. Claude De L'Isle (1644 -1720), the family patriarch, was Paris based a historian and geographer under Nicholas Sanson. De L'Isle and his sons were proponents of the school of "positive geography" and were definitive figures, defining the heights of the Golden Age of French Cartography. Of his twelve sons, four, Guillaume (1675- 1726), Simon Claude (1675 - 1726), Joseph Nicholas (1688 - 1768) and Louis (1720 - 1745), made a significant contributions to cartography. Without a doubt Guillaume was the most remarkable member of the family. It is said that Guillaume's skill as a cartographer was so prodigious that he drew his first map at just nine years of age. He was tutored by J. D. Cassini in astronomy, science, mathematics and cartography. By applying these diverse disciplines to the vast stores of information provided by 18th century navigators, Guillaume created the technique that came to be known as "scientific cartography", essentially an extension of Sanson's "positive geography". This revolutionary approach transformed the field of cartography and created a more accurate picture of the world. Among Guillaume's many firsts are the first naming of Texas, the first correct map of the Mississippi, the final rejection of the insular California fallacy, and the first identification of the correct longitudes of America. Stylistically De L'Isle also initiated important changes to the medium, eschewing the flamboyant Dutch style of the previous century in favor of a highly detailed yet still decorative approach that yielded map both beautiful and informative. Guillaume was elected to the French Academie Royale des Sciences at 27. Later, in 1718, he was also appointed "Premier Geographe du Roi", an office created especially for him. De L'Isle personally financed the publication of most of his maps, hoping to make heavy royalties on their sales. Unfortunately he met an untimely death in 1728, leaving considerable debt and an impoverished child and widow. De L'Isle's publishing firm was taken over by his assistant, Phillipe Buache who became, posthumously, his son in law. The other De L'Isle brothers, Joseph Nicholas and Louis De L'Isle, were employed in the Service of Peter the Great of Russia as astronomers and surveyors. They are responsible for cataloguing and compiling the data obtained from Russian expeditions in the Pacific and along the northwest coast of America, including the seminal explorations of Vitus Bering and Aleksei Chirikov. The De L'Isles, like their rivals the Vaugondys , must be considered speculative geographers. Speculative geography was a genre of mapmaking that evolved in Europe, particularly Paris, in the middle to late 18th century. Cartographers in this genre would fill in unknown areas on their maps with speculations based upon their vast knowledge of cartography, personal geographical theories, and often dubious primary source material gathered by explorers and navigators. This approach, which attempted to use the known to validate the unknown, naturally engendered many rivalries. The era of speculatively cartography effectively ended with the late 18th century explorations of Captain Cook, Jean Francois de Galaup de La Perouse, and George Vancouver. Click here for a list of maps by the De L'Isle (Delisle) family.
Size: Printed area measures 24.5 x 20 inches (62.23 x 50.8 centimeters)
Scale: 1 : 31000000
Condition: Very good. Original pressmark visible. Blank on verso.
Printable Info Sheet
Code: America-covensmortier-1755 (to order by phone call: 646-320-8650)
Tags: America , Delisle , Juan De Fuca , Sea of the West , Maelstrom , Laguna Xarayes , Covens and Mortier