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1646 Merian Map of Africa

Nova descriptio Africae. - Main View

1646 Merian Map of Africa


Richly decorative map of the Africa.


Nova descriptio Africae.
  1638 (undated)     10.5 x 14.25 in (26.67 x 36.195 cm)     1 : 26000000


This is a scarce 1638 Matthias Merian map of Africa, built upon the geographic model of Willem Blaeu's 1617 'Africae nova descriptio'. Blaeu's details are presented here faithfully (though dispensing with Blaeu's decorative borders). This choice is consistent with Merian's decision to copy Blaeu's world and Americas maps for his 1638 Neuwe Archontologia cosmica. In addition to adopting Blaeu's cartography, Merian has filled the seas around Africa with ships and sea monsters; likewise the land teems with elephants, ostriches, lions, and other beasts.
The Map
In following Blaeu's atlas map, Merian in effect is reproducing Blaeu's 1608 wall map of the continent, which provided the standard for virtually all mapping of Africa until the late 17th century. The coastline, in particular, is rich in toponomy and the overall shape of the continent is remarkably accurate. Points within the continent, nonetheless, reveal the European ignorance of Africa's interior that would maintain until well into the 19th century. The Nile, for example, is illustrated with its sources in the lakes of Zaire and Zaflan, an assumption inherited from no less venerable an authority than the 2nd century Alexandrian Claudius Ptolemy. The equally fictitious Lake Sachaf, derived from Laurent Fries' 1522 geography, appears in southern Africa feeding the Zambere River, flowing to the Rio de Spirito Santo. The Cuama River is shown north of the Rio de Spirito Santo, but unlike earlier maps - including Blaeu's own wall map - the Cuama is given its own source, instead of sharing a source at Lake Sachaf. The Niger River is shown running, essentially, in the wrong direction: emptying into the Senegal river, after having flowed from an imagined Lake Niger in the general vicinity of what is now the Central African Republic. (The detailed mapping of the Niger River would not be complete until the 1890s.)
Publication History and Census
This map was executed in 1638 for inclusion in Matthias Merian's Neuwe Archontologia cosmica, a German translation of Pierre d'Avity's 1616 Les Estats, empires, et principautez du monde. We identify about ten examples of later editions of Merian's Neuwe Archontologia cosmica in institutional collections, and sixteen examples of this separate map are so cataloged.


Matthäus Merian (September 22, 1593 - June 19, 1650), sometimes referred to as 'the Elder' to distinguish from his son, was an important Swiss engraver and cartographer active in the early to mid 17th century. Merian was born in Basel and studied engraving in the centers of Zurich, Strasbourg, Nancy and Paris. In time Merian was drawn to the publishing mecca of Frankfurt, where he met Johann Theodor de Bry, son of the famed publisher Theodor de Bry (1528 - 1598) . Merian and De Bry produced a number of important joint works and, in 1617, Merian married De Bry's daughter Maria Magdalena. In 1623 De Bry died and Merian inherited the family firm. Merian continued to publish under the De Bry's name until 1626. Around this time, Merian became a citizen of Frankfurt as such could legally work as an independent publisher. The De Bry name is therefore dropped from all of Merian's subsequent work. Of this corpus, which is substantial, Merian is best known for his finely engraved and highly detailed town plans and city views. Merian is considered one of the grand masters of the city view and a pioneer of the axonometric projection. Merian died in 1650 following several years of illness. He was succeeded in the publishing business by his two sons, Matthäus (1621 - 1687) and Caspar (1627 - 1686), who published his great works, the Topographia and Theatrum Europeaum, under the designation Merian Erben (Merian Heirs). Merian's daughter, Anna Maria Sibylla Merian, became an important naturalist and illustrator. Today the German Travel Magazine Merian is named after the famous engraver. More by this mapmaker...

Willem Janszoon Blaeu (1571 - October 18, 1638), also known as Guillaume Blaeu and Guiljelmus Janssonius Caesius, was a Dutch cartographer, globemaker, and astronomer active in Amsterdam during the late 16th and early 17th centuries. Blaeu was born 'Willem Janszoon' in Alkmaar, North Holland to a prosperous herring packing and trading family of Dutch Reformist faith. As a young man, he was sent to Amsterdam to apprentice in the family business, but he found the herring trade dull and instead worked for his cousin 'Hooft' as a carpenter and clerk. In 1595, he traveled to the small Swedish island of Hven to study astronomy under the Danish Enlightenment polymath Tycho Brahe. For six months he studied astronomy, cartography, instrument making, globe making, and geodesy. He returned to Alkmaar in 1596 to marry and for the birth of his first son, Johannes (Joan) Blaeu (1596 – 1673). Shortly thereafter, in 1598 or 1599, he relocated his family to Amsterdam where he founded the a firm as globe and instrument makers. Many of his earliest imprints, from roughly form 1599 - 1633, bear the imprint 'Guiljelmus Janssonius Caesius' or simply 'G: Jansonius'. In 1613, Johannes Janssonius, also a mapmaker, married Elizabeth Hondius, the daughter of Willem's primary competitor Jodocus Hondius the Elder, and moved to the same neighborhood. This led to considerable confusion and may have spurred Willam Janszoon to adopt the 'Blaeu' patronym. All maps after 1633 bear the Guiljelmus Blaeu imprint. Around this time, he also began issuing separate issue nautical charts and wall maps – which as we see from Vermeer's paintings were popular with Dutch merchants as decorative items – and invented the Dutch Printing Press. As a non-Calvinist Blaeu was a persona non grata to the ruling elite and so he partnered with Hessel Gerritsz to develop his business. In 1619, Blaeu arranged for Gerritsz to be appointed official cartographer to the VOC, an extremely lucrative position that that, in the slightly more liberal environment of the 1630s, he managed to see passed to his eldest son, Johannes. In 1633, he was also appointed official cartographer of the Dutch Republic. Blaeu's most significant work is his 1635 publication of the Theatrum orbis terrarum, sive, Atlas Novus, one of the greatest atlases of all time. He died three years later, in 1638, passing the Blaeu firm on to his two sons, Cornelius (1616 - 1648) and Johannes Blaeu (September 23, 1596 - December 21, 1673). Under his sons, the firm continued to prosper until the 1672 Great Fire of Amsterdam destroyed their offices and most of their printing plates. Willem's most enduring legacy was most likely the VOC contract, which ultimately passed to Johannes' son, Johannes II, who held the position until 1617. As a hobbyist astronomer, Blaeu discovered the star now known as P. Cygni. Learn More...


Merian, M. Neuwe Archontologia cosmica (Franckfurt am Mayn), 1638.    


Very good. Light toning at centerfold, else a very clean example with fine hand color.


OCLC 164592516. Betz, R., The Mapping of Africa, #67.