The Earliest Obtainable Sea Chart of the Gulf of Mexico
Fine dark impression of first state of Robert Dudley's important chart of the Gulf Coast, from Florida to he Yucatan and Texas, published in Venice in 1646.
The present example is noteworthy for the numerous extra horizontal lines, a result of its being a very early impression, with the plate not perfectly cleaned, thereby providing very impressive extra shading, adding extra visual depth to the printed image.
Dudley work is a remarkable compilation of information, showing the direction of soundings in certain sections of the map, currents, shallow regions, shoals, and other sailing information. Constructed on Mercator's Projection, this remarkable sea chart was the earliest printed chart of the region.
The chart appeared in Dudley's Arcano del Mare, one of the rarest and most highly sought after sea atlases of the 17th Century. Dudley, an Englishman, produced this exquisite work while living in Florence. Dudley, who was believed to have received some of his information directly from Sir Francis Drake, labored for decades before finally releasing the first edition of this work when he was 73 years old. Dudley's atlas is of the utmost importance, being the first Sea Atlas published by an Englishman and the first Sea Atlas to treat the entire world (not just Europe). It is also the first atlas to utilize the Mercator Projection on a uniform basis and included significant advances in "Great Circle" navigation (shortest circle around the Globe). Its inclusion of winds and currents was also a monumental first. Completed in Manuscript form in 1636, it is among the most important works in the history of European Cartography.
Robert Dudley (1574 - 1649) was the illegitimate son of Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester. In 1594, Dudley led an expedition to the West Indies, of which he wrote an account. In 1605, he tried unsuccessfully to establish his legitimacy in court. After that he left England and converted to Catholicism, taking up residence in Florence where he served the Grand Dukes of Tuscany in their efforts to rid the Mediterranean of Piracy. There he worked as a noted shipbuilder and designed and published Dell'Arcano del Mare, the first maritime atlas to cover the whole world. He was also a skilled navigator, mathematician and engineer. In Italy, he styled himself Earl of Warwick and Leicester, as well as Duke of Northumberland. He was a friend of Sir Francis Drake and relative of Thomas Cavendish, both of whom corresponded with Dudley and likely supplied some of the information for his Atlas.
Robert Dudley (1574-1649) is one of the most intriguing historical figures of the late Elizabethan period. His father, also named Robert and the first Earl of Leicester, was a favorite of Elizabeth I’s. The Earl was a supporter of exploratory expeditions and backed Francis Drake on his circumnavigation (1577-1580) and Martin Frobisher on his 1576 voyage to find the Northwest Passage. Robert the Younger was the illegitimate son of the Earl and Lady Douglas Sheffield, born in 1574.
Dudley attended Christ Church, Oxford, starting in 1587. A year later, at only 14, Dudley stood by his father at Tilbury, witnessing Queen Elizabeth’s famous speech in preparation for resisting the Spanish Armada. His father died in September that year, giving Robert a sizeable inheritance. In 1594, Dudley led an expedition to Guiana, where some of his men explored up the Orinoco River in search of gold. In 1596, Dudley joined an expedition against Cadiz.
All these experiences left Dudley in favor, and he thought the time was right to establish his legitimacy. In court proceedings from 1603 to 1605, Dudley fought for his right to his father’s titles, but the Star Chamber ruled against him and he had to left England for self-exile in Italy. He settled in Florence, where he designed and built ships and advised Ferdinand I, Grand Duke of Tuscany.
While in Florence, Dudley also compiled all his sailing notes and thoughts on navigation (and those of others including, purportedly, Francis Drake, with whom he sailed in 1596, and Thomas Cavendish, to whom he was related by marriage) into a work called Arcano del Mare, or The Secret of the Sea. He finished the manuscript of the work in 1636 and published the work himself, at age 73, a decade later in 1646-7.
Dudley’s Arcano del Mare (Mystery of the Sea) is one of the most important atlases ever produced and one of the most complex. It is the first sea-atlas of the whole world; the first with all the charts constructed using Mercator's new projection, as corrected by Edward Wright; the first to give magnetic declination; the first to give prevailing winds and currents; the first to expound the advantages of Great Circle Sailing; and the first sea-atlas to be compiled by an Englishman, albeit abroad in Italy. Dudley broke completely with the contemporary style of charts. He showed lines of latitude and longitude and omitted all compass lines. In doing so, his purpose was more intellectual than practical: techniques for determining longitude at sea were not refined until more than two centuries later. The maps are by English and other pilots and it is generally accepted that the work was both scientific and accurate for the time. Dudley used the original charts of Henry Hudson, and for the Pacific Coast of America used Cavendish's observations. When the first edition appeared, Dudley was seventy-three years old. The Arcano del Mare was a monumental and totally original task, the charts, representations of instruments and diagrams all engraved on huge quantities of copper over many years with an exactitude incorporating the minutest detail and printed on the best possible paper.
Antonio Francesco Lucini, the engraver, was born in Florence c. 1610. Before being employed by Sir Robert Dudley, he had already published engraved views of Florence and scenes of the Turkish Wars. Lucini put the stamp of his personality on the finished work as well as did the author; the delicacy and strength of the engraving, the embellishments of the lettering alla cancellaresca, make it a true example of Italian Baroque art. In a printed introductory leaf found in one copy in the British Library, Lucini states that he worked on the plates in seclusion for twelve years in an obscure Tuscan village, using up to no less than 5,000 lbs (2,268 kg) of copper. According to the engraver, the Arcano del Mare took forty years to prepare and twelve to execute.