Striking Chart of the Indian Ocean, Marking a Famous Diplomat’s Journey
Fine example of this important chart of the Indian Ocean, illustrating the route of the Jesuit priest Guy Tachard at the end of the seventeenth century.
The present example bears the bookplate (bottom right) of the Prussian Royal Academy of Sciences (Königlich-Preußische Academie der Wissenschaften), which was formed on July 11, 1700.
The map shows the Maldives, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), much of India, the flood plains of the Ganges River, Burma (Myanmar), continuing around to Malacca on the Malaysian Peninsula. It includes most of Sumatra and names the Aceh region. Three insets detail the vicinity of Goa, the Port of Negrailles, and the Port of Mergui.
An ornate cartouche is decorated with artifacts, exotic flora, and eagles. It explains that this chart was not to be used primarily for navigation, despite the presence of sounding depths, navigational obstructions, and rhumb lines, but to showcase the multiple legs of Guy Tachard’s (1651-1712) final embassy to Siam. Tachard established diplomatic relations with the Kingdom of Siam over the course of several voyages in the final two decades of the seventeenth century.
Siamese representatives first ventured to the French court, arriving in 1684. King Louis XIV sent his own embassy the following year. It included Tachard, a Jesuit missionary, astronomer, and mathematician, and was commanded by the Chevalier de Chaumont and François-Timoléon de Choisy. The group arrived in Siam, where they attended on King Narai of Siam, and a group of five Jesuits continued on to China. Tachard, however, returned to France with another Siamese embassy.
Tachard was sent back to Siam to accompany the delegates’ home. This embassy, in five ships, was commanded by General Desfarges and employees of the French East India Company. They reaffirmed the former commercial treaty decided by the first embassy. However, the presence of French troops triggered an uprising that saw the death of King Narai and the crowning of King Phra Petratcha.
Meanwhile, Tachard had returned to Europe as the Ambassador Extraordinary for the King of Siam. He visited Pope Innocent XI in January 1688. Prevented from returning due to the revolution, Tachard waited at Pondicherry and then returned again to France. He went to Siam once more, arriving in 1699, which is the voyage shown on this chart.
Tachard died in Chandernagor in 1712. His embassies were so well known due to his published travel accounts, which were translated across Europe.
Jean-Baptiste Nolin (ca. 1657-1708) was a French engraver who worked at the turn of the eighteenth century. Initially trained by Francois de Poilly, his artistic skills caught the eye of Vincenzo Coronelli when the latter was working in France. Coronelli encouraged the young Nolin to engrave his own maps, which he began to do.
Whereas Nolin was a skilled engraver, he was not an original geographer. He also had a flair for business, adopting monikers like the Geographer to the Duke of Orelans and Engerver to King XIV. He, like many of his contemporaries, borrowed liberally from existing maps. In Nolin’s case, he depended especially on the works of Coronelli and Jean-Nicholas de Tralage, the Sieur de Tillemon. This practice eventually caught Nolin in one of the largest geography scandals of the eighteenth century.
In 1700, Nolin published a large world map which was seen by Claude Delisle, father of the premier mapmaker of his age, Guillaume Delisle. Claude recognized Nolin’s map as being based in part on his son’s work. Guillaume had been working on a manuscript globe for Louis Boucherat, the chancellor of France, with exclusive information about the shape of California and the mouth of the Mississippi River. This information was printed on Nolin’s map. The court ruled in the Delisles’ favor after six years. Nolin had to stop producing that map, but he continued to make others.
Calling Nolin a plagiarist is unfair, as he was engaged in a practice that practically every geographer adopted at the time. Sources were few and copyright laws weak or nonexistent. Nolin’s maps are engraved with considerable skill and are aesthetically engaging.
Nolin’s son, also Jean-Baptiste (1686-1762), continued his father’s business.