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1703 Delisle Map of Northern South America (Brazil, Peru, Columbia, Venezuela)

Carte de la Terre Ferme, du Perou, du Bresil, et du Pays des Amazones. - Main View

1703 Delisle Map of Northern South America (Brazil, Peru, Columbia, Venezuela)



Carte de la Terre Ferme, du Perou, du Bresil, et du Pays des Amazones.
  1703 (dated)     19.5 x 25.5 in (49.53 x 64.77 cm)     1 : 9000000


This is an extraordinary example of Guillaume de L'isle's magnificent 1703 map of northern South America. It covers from Costa Rica and Barbados south roughly to the Tropic of Capricorn, or more precisely, 50 degrees south latitude. The map renders the entire region in extraordinary detail offering both topographical and political information with forest and mountains beautifully rendered in profile.

This map, like most early maps of the area, contrasts a detailed mapping of the coast with a speculative discussion of the interior, particularly the Amazon Basin. It offers a fairly accurate mapping of both the east and west coasts with exceptional detail in the populated Andean regions of Columbia, Ecuador (Labeled Quito), and Peru. Notes Cuzco, Lima, Quito, Valladolid, Arequipa, Trujillo and other important trading centers of the region. In Portuguese controlled Brazil, Rio de Janeiro, San Salvador and San Sebastian are noted. Lake Maracaibo, in modern day Venezuela, is slightly malformed and elongated.

The interior is where this map gets interesting. De L'isle was a cautious and scientific cartographer, who based his maps on the first hand reports from sailors, merchants and missionaries that, at the time, were flowing into Paris at an unprecedented rate. Consequently many of his maps offer significant cartographic advances over their predecessors. This map is no exception and De L'isle credits the mappings and explorations of Alonzo de Herrera, Johannes de Laet, P.P. D Acuna and M. Rodriguez. Nonetheless, De L'isle's mapping of South America's interior is full of inaccuracy, curiosities, and ample fodder for the gold hunting European. Our survey of this map begins with De L'isle's impressively accurate mapping of the Amazon and Orinoco River systems - though he does erroneously connect the two, an understandable error common to maps of the period. Roughly where the Grand Sabana is today, in modern day Venezuela, De L'isle speculates the location of Lake Parima and the city of El Dorado (curiously this is actually gold rich region though difficult to access and mine). Further south he notates numerous gold rich indigenous groups including Los Plateros and Xarayes.

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 Diaz de Guzman, imagined an island in this lake and curiously identified it as an ' of Paradise,' 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. De L'isle, to his credit, shows the 'Laguna' and its island in a much reduced form compared to earlier cartographers. He also correctly does not connect the Paraguay River to the Amazon system.

A decorative title cartouche adorns the upper right quadrant. Altogether this is a spectacular map of the region. Stands up to hours of perusal and presents dramatically.


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. More by this mapmaker...


Very good. Some wear and verso reinforcement along original centerfold. Original platemark visible. Minor spotting. Print crease upper right quadrant and near centerfold.


Rumsey 4764.102.