Rare early Sea Chart of Brazil, the West Coast of Africa and the South Atlantic Ocean, first published by Johannes Van Keulen in 1680.
The present chart was one of Van Keulen's earliest American Charts, and appeared only between 1680 and 1683, but did not appear in Van Keulen's 5 volume Zee Fakkel, which was first published in 1684.
Van Keulen's chart is centered on the South Atlantic Ocean, and embraces the entire coastlines of Brazil and Uruguay, extending as far south as Buenos Aires on the Río de la Plata. In Africa, it depicts the entire littoral running from Senegal down to the Cape of Good Hope. Various stretches of the shorelines are distinguished in attractive color, while the seas are traversed by rhumb lines. The title cartouche includes the figure of Neptune riding a hippocampus and mermen supporting a picture of a battle scene.
The present chart was published as part of Van Keulen's great sea atlas, the Zee-Fakkel, and would have been of considerable interest during its time, as this section of the Atlantic was an important transport corridor for the Asiatic trade. Ships would sail from Europe down near the western tip of Africa, before swinging out to sea to take advantage of the currents, before re-approaching Africa near the Cape of Good Hope, and then continuing into the Indian Ocean on their way to the East Indies.
The shorelines of both Africa and South America are depicted with impressive accuracy for the time, owing to the sophisticated appreciation of the geography acquired by Dutch mariners. The portrayal of Brazil is derived from the maps, most notably those by Caspar Barleaus, commissioned by the Dutch West India Company (the WIC) during its occupation of northern Brazil from 1630 to 1654. The WIC also acquired extensive knowledge of West Africa owing to its trading activities along those coasts. Meanwhile the Dutch East India Company (the VOC) had a great interest in South Africa since it founded Cape Town in 1652.
Johannes Van Keulen (1654-1715) was the most important publisher of sea charts during the late 17th-century. In 1678, he founded a publishing house in Amsterdam, which he named 'In de Gekroonde Lootsman' ('In the Crowned Pilot'). In 1680, he obtained a privilege for publishing sea charts from the States of Holland and West Friesland. With the assistance of the cartographer Claes Jansz Vooght and the engraver Jan Luyken, Van Keulen published the
Nieuwe Lichtende Zee-Fakkel (meaning 'Sea-Torch' in English), issued in 5 volumes from 1681 to 1684. Van Keulen's charts proved to be highly popular, and subsequent editions were issued by three generations of his descendants.
The Van Keulens were a family of chartmakers and publishers. The firm, In de Gekroonde Lootsman (In the Crowned Pilot), was founded in 1678 by Johannes van Keulen (1654-1715). Van Keulen originally registered his business as a vendor of books and instruments (specifically cross-staffs). In 1680, however, he gained a privilege from the States of Holland and West Friesland for the publication of pilot guides and sea atlases.
In that year, van Keulen released his Zee-Atlas (Sea Atlas), which secured him a name in the competitive maritime publishing market. In 1681, he published the first volume of Nieuwe Lichtende Zee-Fakkel (New Shining Sea Torch). This would be the first of an eventual five volumes originally published between 1680 and 1684. A sixth volume was added in 1753. The Zee-Fakel won van Keulen lasting fame. The atlas had charts compiled by Claes Jansz Vooght and artwork from Jan Luyken. It proved immensely popular and was reprinted until 1783. There were translations in French, English, Spanish, and Italian.
The late-seventeenth century was an auspicious time to enter the maritime chart business. Previous industry leaders had either closed shop, died, or retired, leaving space for a new competitor. Van Keulen proceeded to buy up the stock and privileges of several maritime publishing firms; the most notable was the stock of Hendrik Doncker, acquired in 1693.
Johannes’ son, Gerard (1678-1726) took over the business upon his father’s death. Gerard was a skilled engraver and mathematician. His talents were noticed, as in 1706 he was named as Hydrographer to the Dutch East India Company (VOC).
In turn, Gerard’s son Johannes II (1704-1770) came to run the shop. He was also tied to the VOC, and his role as their chartmaker allowed his charts to be considered as quasi-official government documents. It is with access to formerly clandestine VOC geographic knowledge that Johannes the Younger was able to add a sixth volume to the Zee-Fakkel, which covered the East Indies. Johannes also continued to sell instruments, including the recently-invented Hadley’s Quadrant from 1744.
When Johannes II died in 1770, his widow ran the business in his stead, aided by her two sons, Cornelis Buys (1736-1778) and Gerard Hulst (1733-1801). Now a century old, the family business had extended to include an anchor factory. After Cornelis died in 1778, Gerard took on the management of the firm alone. He oversaw the introduction of sextants to their inventory and published the Dutch Nautical Almanac beginning in 1788. Annual editions appeared until 1885. Gerard also served as an original member of the Dutch Commission for Longitude at Sea from 1787.
Gerard’s widow ran the business for nine years after his death, when their son, Johannes Hulst, started to lead the firm in 1810. After his death in 1844, the firm passed out of family hands and into the control of Jacob Swert, a skilled cartographer who had worked for the business for two decades. He passed the work to his son, another Jacob, in 1866. By the mid-nineteenth century, the conversion from sail to steam had diminished the size of the market for charts. Fewer sailors needed fewer maps, charts, and instruments. In 1885, after 207 years in business, In de Gekroonde Lootsman closed its doors and auctioned its stock.