Newly Discovered Hondius Map

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Article taken from "Backsights" Magazine published by Surveyors Historical Society


By Paul E. Cohen & Robert T. Augustyn

Every newly discovered map alters cartographic history. In most instances thee reverberations are minor - one more map added to the oeuvre of a cartographer, a scrap of new geographical information, a reputation slightly enhanced or diminished. Rare is the discovery that challenges long-held suppositions or significantly alters the reputations of major cartographers. Such a rarity was recently sold at Sothebyís in Milan.

It is a huge wall map of the world dated 1603, the first of such majestic proportions by one of the luminaries of Dutch cartography, Jodocus Hondius. Its discovery forces us to re-examine a crucial period of Dutch mapmaking when the careers of some of its major practitioners were beginning and when the fundamental characteristics of Dutch maps, and maps in general, were being established. Specifically, the map realigns the hierarchy of influence between two of the greatest cartographers of all time: Hondius and Willem Jansz. Blaeu. Further, it emerges that the map played a key role in disseminating the most enduring geographical innovation of its day: the Mercator projection. The map also introduced a convention of ornamentation that persisted on Dutch maps for decades.

In 1919 the discovery of a similar, but later, wall map by Hondius created a sensation in the cartographic community. About this 1608 map Edward Heawood wrote: It is one of the finest examples of the work of the Flemish-Dutch school of cartographers, at a time when these led the world in the production of maps which, for artistic style and wealth of information, surpassed all that had been done in this field.Ļ Heawood, then the director of the Royal Geographical Society in London, was so thrilled that this "find of the first importance"≤ had been acquired by the society that he wrote a monograph, complete with an atlas volume, about the map. In the monograph he wrote: We have not yet exhausted the possibilities of such discoveries . . . . there is good evidence that other big maps, now quite unknown, were produced by the same school (some at least by Hondius himself).≥ Heawood has now been proven right, and his prediction has resulted in a far richer find than the 1919 discovery.

According to Vladimiro Valerio of the University of Naples, Hondiusí deteriorating 1603 map has until recently belonged to a noble Italian family with little interest in cartographic history. It hung for centuries in an elaborate frame on a wall of their Tuscan villa. During a spring cleaning in 1996 the map would have been discarded had not an alert junk dealer seen some value in the antique frame and bought both map and frame. The framed map subsequently changed hands several times, eventually coming into the possession of Pietro Crini, a Florentine bookdealer, who consulted Valerio, an authority on antique maps. Valerio instantly recognized the importance of the map, and soon thereafter it was put into the Sothebyís auction of March 20, 1998, in Milan. The illustration in the auction catalog shows a dingy map in poor condition, but it nevertheless brought a very respectable price. Cleaning revealed that the map was in far better condition than anyone suspected. It is now the high point of one of the best private collections in the United States.

The 1603 map is the first edition (at least so far) of the 1608 map owned by the Royal Geographical Society. GŁnter Schilder of the University of Utrecht has located a reference to the 1603 map in the privilege granted by the States General to Hondius on May 13, 1603, which

reads (in translation), Jodocus Hondius will be the only one in these United Provinces to be allowed to cut, print, have printed, publish and sell the map he has published entitled Nova et exacta totius orbis terrarum descriptio Geographica et Hydrographia Autore Jodoco Hondio, for a period of eight years. This is the Latin inscription, with only the smallest differences, that appears on both 1603 and 1608 maps.

The geographical sections (as opposed to the text and borders) are printed from copperplates on twelve sheets, ten of which appear to be identical on both maps. There are no geographical changes on the two sheets that have been altered. The difference consists in the fact that the dedication to Prince Maurice (1567 - 1625) on the 1603 map became an allegorical representation on the later one.

Before the discovery of the 1603 Hondius map (and a much smaller one of 1598 discussed below) Willem Blaeu had been regarded as the dominant figure in the evolution of Dutch wall maps. Schilder, the leading authority on the history of Dutch cartography, wrote of the map that established Blaeuís early reputation: [it] may be said to be among the most important cartographic achievements of the seventeenth century, not only because of its contents, but also because of its wealth of decorative material. This work of Willem Jansz. [Blaeu] on Mercatorís projection had a lasting influence on other printed and manuscript maps produced in the first half of the seventeenth century. Because Blaeu published a smaller version of his wall map for his popular atlases, the map became the most familiar seventeenth-century delineation of the world.

What was not known about Blaeu until now is how heavily he borrowed from Hondius during the formative years of his career. The recent discovery reveals that Blaeuís use of the Mercator projection came directly from Hondius and that the practice of creating decorative borders began with Hondius, not Blaeu, as has always been thought.

In 1569 Gerardus Mercator, the only cartographer whose name is familiar to the general public, devised a new projection that revolutionized mapmaking and is used to this day. He solved one of the biggest problems facing early cartographers: how to reproduce the entire surface of a sphere on a continuous, two-dimensional rectangle. Using Mercatorís method, the lines of latitude and longitude cross each other at right angles and gradually enlarge the size of the earth as the latitude lines approach the poles; at the poles themselves, the parallels of latitude are the same length as the equator. Thus Greenland, which is close to the North Pole, looks enormous on a Mercator projection map. Despite the distortions, the projection solved more problems than it created, partly because so little was known about the land at the poles in the sixteenth century.

Until Mercatorís projection, maps were almost useless for mariners traveling long distances, since plotting curved courses required constant correction. On a chart or map drawn on the Mercator projection a mariner could plot a single, straight-line course from any point to any other point.

Considering the necessity of this technology in an age of transoceanic voyages, the Mercator projection probably should have been invented before 1569, when Mercator presented it for the first time on a wall map of the world. Such maps were difficult to create, and as a result the projection languished for years before anyone put it to practical use. Mercator himself abandoned the projection when he published other maps, including those in his atlas of 1595. He did not even publish the calculations that would have enabled others to use his creation.

Hondius lived in exile in London from 1584 to 1593 to escape religious intolerance in the Netherlands. There he was active engraving maps and providing gores for the first English globe issued by Emery Molyneaux (d. 15988/99) in 1592. He also befriended Edward Wright (c. 1558-1615), a leading mathematician, who was at work calculating the formulations for applying the Mercator projection. Wright loaned Hondius his work in progress on the subject, Certaine Errors in Navigation ... (London, 1599), with the understanding that Hondius would not use Wrightís findings in published form. But, as Schilder relates: Hondius recognized the importance of Wrightís argument and - contrary to the agreement - copied the relevant chapter. Hondius used this information when he published a large map of the world and maps of the four continents on Mercatorís projection in Amsterdam in the period 1595-98.

The Hondius world map Schilder refers to was not known until 1993, when Schilder himself found an example in poor condition in Dresden. That map of 1598 must now be identified as the first to use the Mercator projection after Mercatorís own map of 1569. Previously, Wrightís map of 1599 was given this distinction. Hondiusís 1598 map is a much smaller preliminary version of the 1603 wall map, and it lacks both the explanation (with a diagram) of how to calculate the projection and the decorative border found on both the 1603 and 1608 maps.

Wright took a dim view of Hondiusís achievements and admonished him bitterly in the preface to Certain Errors. He felt that Hondius was guilty of intellectual theft. However, the 1603 map suggests something different. In his address to the reader Hondius stated that he, unaided, devised a new and simplified method for applying the Mercator projection in contrast to Wrightís complex formulations. Hondius wrote: But since we (be it said without boasting) have discovered a solution not only accurate but easy, we have thought well to offer the same to the world for the benefit of students of this art, and to place it before the eyes of the reader by a clear diagram, so that by its demonstration anyone bay be able without any trouble to represent regions in any part of the world on a larger or smaller scale.

Heawood, who translated this statement from Latin, wrote in his commentary on the 1608 map that Hondius "employs a graphic construction which dispenses with Wrightís elaborate tables, and was no doubt accurate enough for the practical purposes of the time."

Wright never forgave Hondius but he did acknowledge his role in promulgating the greatest advance in mapmaking of the age. In the preface to the 1610 edition of Certaine Errors, Wright wrote: But the exact way, how to make the parts of the meridians and parallels to keepe that proportion every where, so far as I can learn, I first published to the worlde in my former edition of Errors in Navigation, out of the copie where of Hondius a graver of maps in Amsterdam, first learned to graduate his maps of the world and of the 4 parts there of. According to sayd proportion which many others also followed afterwards. Among the followers was Blaeu who, by 1610, had already published a smaller version of his 1606 wall map, and the Mercator projection was by then well on its way to becoming a common method for delineating the world.

In the seventeenth century wall maps were created for the homes and offices of wealthy merchants and royalty and can be seen on the walls in several of the interior scenes painted by Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675). According to Schilder, "the Hondius map [of 1603] has to be seen as the starting-point of the large wall maps of the world with decorative borders." Although Hondius did little more than place small-scale maps from his Atlas Minor around the edges, he must be credited with introducing this decorative motif on world maps. In the competitive world of Dutch map publishing Blaeu outshone Hondius as an artistic mapmaker with his magnificent wall maps of 1605 to 1607. Hondius tried his best to counter Blaeu when he reissued his 1603 wall map in 1608 by using ornamental devices borrowed from Blaeu.

In 1993 Brian Hooker argued that the 1608 Hondius map was probably the later state of one printed from the same plates, probably in 1598. Hookerís article may have inspired Schilder, who in 1993 magically produced the 1598 Hondius map referred to above. This map was not printed from the same plates as the 1608 map, but with the discovery of the 1603 map Hooker has been proved correct in believing that there was an earlier edition to the 1608 map.

The wall map is the most endangered of all cartographic works. Of the hundreds probably produced in the seventeenth century it has been reported that "fewer than 50 wall maps have been recorded." Wall maps were often discarded when they were replaced by newer works with more up-to-date geographical information. Even those that escaped the rubbish bin usually deteriorated beyond repair. They were often varnished and became brittle and cracked over time. Most of the seventeenth-century wall maps that have survived are from the Blaeu firm, which has enhanced its reputation. With the recent discovery of Hondiusís early wall maps, Blaeuís antecedents are evident and Hondiusís important role finally understood.


1 The Map of the World on Mercatorís Projection by Jodocus Hondius, Amsterdam 1608 . . .(Royal Geographical Society, London, 1927), p.1. See also Edward Heawood, "Hondius and his newly-found map of 1608," Geographical Journal, vol. 55, no. 1 (September 1919), pp. 178-184.

2 "A World-Map by Hondius on Mercatorís Projection," Geographical Journal, vol. 54, no.2 (August 1919), p.123.

3 The Map of the World, p.1.

4 Sale number MI138, Libri, Manoscritti, Carte Geographiche, Stampe e Gouaches, Lot 12. The map sold for $136,260. Information about the provenance of the map was provided in a letter from Vladimiro Valerio to Paul Cohen, October 17, 1998.

5 Monumenta Cartographia Neerlandica, vol. 3 (Uitgeverij "Canaletto," Alphen aan den Rijn, Netherlands, 1990), p.36. The forthcoming volume, volume 6, of this comprehensive study of Dutch cartography will be devoted entirely to Hondius.

6 "Willem Jansz. Blaeuís Wall Map of the World on Mercatorísís Projection, 1606-07 and Its Influence," Imago Mundi, vol.31 (1979), p.41.

7 Monumenta Cartographia Neerlandica, vol.5 (Uitgeverij "Canaletto," Alphen aan den Rijn, 1996), pp.50-51.

8 Ibid., pp.60-61.

9 Cited in Heawood, The Map of the World, p.16.

10 Ibid., p.7.

11 Cited in Schilder, Monumenta, vol.5, p.51.

12 E-mail letter from Schilder to Valerio, January 30, 1998.

13 "New Light on Jodocus Hondiusí Great Map of 1598," Geographical Journal, vol. 159, no.1 (March 1993), p.45.

14 Walter W. Ristow, "America and Africa: Two Seventeenth-Century Wall Maps," in A La Carte: Selected Papers on Maps and Atlases, comp. Walter W. Ristow (Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., 1972), p.65.


Reprinted from The Magazine: Antiques, (January 1999), pp.214-217. ©Paul E. Cohen and Robert T. Augustyn 1999.

[caption for pg.6 lower left]




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