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1556 Ramusio Map of New England (first specific map of the Northeast and Canada: First Edition)

La Nuova Francia. - Main View

1556 Ramusio Map of New England (first specific map of the Northeast and Canada: First Edition)


First Map to show New York Harbor. The First Map to name Canada.



La Nuova Francia.
  1556 (undated)     10.5 x 14.5 in (26.67 x 36.83 cm)     1 : 5330000


This is the seminal 1556 Giovanni Battista Ramusio map of the Northeast and Canada, 'the first printed map devoted to the New England region' (Osher), and the first map to apply a specific name to Canada. The map depicts the northeastern coast of North America from New York to the coast of Labrador, inclusive of New England and maritime Canada. It is the first map to reveal Giovanni da Verrazano's 1524 voyage to America and to depict his discoveries in what would become New York and New England. It is also among the most visually engaging early maps, being richly decorated with depictions of indigenous peoples, Europeans, flora and fauna, sailing ships, sea monsters, and demons.
The Sources
Ramusio, in the introduction to his Navigationi et Viaggi, wrote that he asked Giacomo Gastaldi to provide maps for his work. While it is not known whether the great Venetian cartographer actually did so, Ramusio certainly derived the basic cartographic outline of this map from the northern half of Gastaldi's 1548 Tierra Nueva. The fascinating detail incorporated is a synthesis of the epochal French-sponsored voyages of Giovanni Verrazzano (1524) and Jacques Cartier (1534 and 1535).
The First Map of New York and New England
The Ramusio is the first printed map to reveal Verrazano's discoveries in New York and New England, and is consequently the first map to show New York Bay and Harbor. This appears in the lower left corner of the map. The peninsula to the east of the bay is identified as Angloulesme, a term Verrazano applied to what is now western Long Island and Brooklyn, to flatter his French sponsor, Francis I. The notoriously dangerous and rock-strewn waters of Upper New York Harbor are illustrated by numerous tiny islands. Continuing eastward along the coast, Flora is most likely the eastern tip of Long Island, Montauk. Port Real is Newport Bay, and Port de la Refuge corresponds to Narragansett Bay. This would suggest that the island of Briso is an early depiction of Block Island and the dual Isola de Brertoni, Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard.
Where Cape Cod?
The curious constriction of the coastline between Narragansett Bay and Cape Breton is the result of Gastaldi's attempt to reconcile Verrazano's journey with those of Cartier. Gastaldi made the erroneous assumption that the northernmost point of Verrazano's exploration, Narragansett Bay or Port de la Refuge, was close to the southernmost point of Cartier's voyage, Cape Breton Island, thus compressing the two and, alas, omitting Cape Cod.
The First Map of Canada
Verrazano, again in honor of his French patronage, named the lands he skirted Francesca. Ramusio translates this on the map as Nuova Francia or 'New France,' making this the first map to name Canada. Verrazano's cursory survey is improved upon by Cartier's 1534 and 1535 voyages, revealing what we now know as the Gulf of St. Lawrence and Newfoundland, here named Terra Nuova. Cape Breton Island is identifiable and so labeled. The snakelike band wrapping around the coastline represents the Grand Banks and the square area, identified as Isola della Rena or 'Island of Sand,' can only be Sable Island. The Grand banks were long known to the Portuguese and Bretons as a rich fishing ground. This point is emphasized by the number of fishing boats pictured near the banks and amongst the islands, one of which is actually named Bacalaos - the Portuguese word for codfish.
France versus Portugal
Verrazano's appellation Francesca did not appear in a vacuum, as the first European claims to this region were not French, as Ramusio acknowledges in this map. The Labrador coast is marked here with the arms of Portugal, as are the sails of one of the many ships plying the fishing grounds. Verrazano and Cartier both sailed for the French, and Ramusio's map emphasizes growing influence not only by adopting Verrazano's nomenclature and symbology: both ships sailing to New France in the lower corners of the map bear Fleurs-de-lis. The message reads: whatever the Portuguese have found, the French should take.
The Rivers
A notable interior feature of this map is its puzzling upstream conjunction of the Hudson River with the St. Lawrence. Though Gastaldi's 1548 map shows the mouths of these rivers, it neither completes nor joins them. Thus, it is not clear whether the idea that they might do so was Gastaldi's or Ramusio's. Verrazano did not venture far up the Hudson, but Cartier's second voyage went as far as Montreal, so the thought that the rivers might have an association may have derived from those reports. After all, today a network of canals do indeed connect the two rivers.
Norumbega: the El Dorado of New England
The New York/Connecticut coastline is presented on a disproportionately large scale. While this may also be a misinterpretation of its extensive treatment in Verrazano's journals, it may also reflect European fascination with the legendary land of Nurumbega (Norumbega), here occupying much of that coastline. This mysterious land appears on a printed map for the first time on Gastaldi's 1548 map. However, it first comes to light on Verrazano's 1529 manuscript map of America. He used the term, Oranbega, which in Algonquin means something on the order of 'lull in the river.' The first detailed reference to Nurumbeg, or as it is more commonly spelled Norumbega, appears in the 1542 journals of the French navigator Jean Fonteneau dit Alfonse de Saintonge, or Jean Allefonsce for short. Allefonsce was a well-respected navigator who, in conjunction with the French nobleman Jean-Fran├žois de la Roque de Roberval's attempt to colonize the region, skirted the coast of south of Newfoundland in 1542. He discovered and apparently sailed some distance up the Penobscot River, encountering a fur rich American Indian city named Norumbega - somewhere near modern-day Bangor, Maine. Andre Thevet, writing in 1550, recorded encountering a French trading fort at the site. A few years later in 1562, an English slaveship shipwrecked in the Gulf of Mexico. David Ingram, one of the survivors, claimed to have trekked overland from the Gulf Coast to Nova Scotia where he was rescued by a passing French ship. Possibly inspired by Mexican legends of El Dorado, Cibola, and other lost cities, Ingram returned to Europe to regale his drinking companions with boasts of a fabulous city rich in pearls and built upon pillars of crystal, silver, and gold. The idea caught on in European popular imagination and expeditions were sent to search for the city - including that of Samuel de Champlain.
Publication History and Census
This map was first engraved by Matteo Pagano for inclusion in the third volume of Ramusio's 1556 Navigationi et Viaggi. The woodblocks for this, and indeed all the maps of the 1556 edition burned in a warehouse fire in 1557, consequently the map printed from this block appears in only one known state. The blocks were all re-engraved, probably again by Pagano, for the 1565 edition of the Navigationi et Viaggi. The two blocks are most easily distinguishable by the addition of willow trees on the 1565 version. That second block was employed one more time in 1606, this edition easily identifiable by the small worm-shaped blank areas visible on the map (woodworm infested all blocks of the 1606 edition.) The 1556 edition of the third volume of Navigationi et Viaggi is rare on the market but held in perhaps thirty institutional collections. Separate examples of this state of the map are cataloged only in the Yale and Villanova University libraries.


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