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Striking D’Anville Map of Venezuela

Fine example of D’Anville’s map of Venezuela, which features much of the northern part of what is today the country of Venezuela and the Leeward Antilles.

The map shows the mountainous terrain in detail, with rivers and plains also labelled. Major cities like Maracaibo and Caracas are shown, as are Dutch-controlled Aruba and Curaçao. Smaller cities are named, but with notes like, “almost abandoned,” as in the case of Coro on the coast south of Curaçao. The Gulf of Venezuela is a major feature to the west.

Most of this detail is clustered near the coasts; the interior remains unmarked, an innovation pioneered by D’Anville who preferred to include only information he could verify in his work. Any uncertainties were labelled as such or left blank. The large llanos south of Caracas are thus left open, but they contain a note that reads:   

These spacious plains extend as far as the Orino [sic.] to the South: they are very level, cut off from large rivers, and flooded in the rainy season.

Another illustration of his cautious mapmaking style is the note to the right of the map, in Cumana. It reads:

The Spaniards have a population at 40. leagues from Cumana to the southeast, named San Felipe of Austria, and situated in the mountains.

D’Anville had heard of this town, but could not ascertain its precise location, thus necessitating a note of explanation. Most of his sources for this map came from the Spanish, as D’Anville mentions in the title.

Most of the area shown here was controlled by the Spanish in the eighteenth century. It was split into provinces, several of which—Caracas, Méride de Maracaibo, and Cumaná—are on this map. Venezuela was a geographical asset, for its long coastline provided opportunities for trade and to build fortifications to protect European trade. The land was also fertile, exporting cocoa, wheat, tobacco, and leather.

Spain was not their primary customer however; traders from other European nations were. This made the Venezuelan coast notorious for smuggling, as the Spanish forbade their colonies to trade with other state actors. Just two years before this map was made, in 1728, the Spanish government granted monopoly trading rights to the Real Compaña Guipuzconan de Caracas to curb British and Dutch trading.

The cocoa plantation, and their use of enslaved African labor, conditioned the social hierarchy which developed in Venezuela. The society was ruled by peninsulares, those born in Spain, followed by white Canary Islanders, pardos or mixed-race peoples, and then African slaves and Indians.

This map, although it carries no page number or binding instructions, was part of a book for which D’Anville produced several items. This was Father Pierre François Xavier de Charlevoix’s Histoire de L’Isle Espagnole ou de S. Domingue, the first volume of which was published in Paris in 1730. This was one of the first books to be dedicated to the history of the island and this map was part of an important source for the history and geography of the Caribbean region.

There is another state of the map held at the Bibliotheque Nationale which lacks the decorative cartouche: 

Condition Description
Exceptional contemporary hand-coloring in full.
Jean-Baptiste Bourguignon d'Anville Biography

Jean-Baptiste Bourguignon d’Anville (1697-1782) was one of the foremost French geographers of the eighteenth century. He carried out rigorous research in order to create his maps, which greatly developed the technical proficiency of mapmaking during his lifetime. His style was also simpler and less ornate than that of many of his predecessors. It was widely adopted by his contemporaries and successors.

The son of a tailor, d’Anville showed cartographic prowess from a young age; his first map, of Ancient Greece, was published when he was only fifteen years old. By twenty-two, he was appointed as one of the King’s géographes ordinaire de roi. He tutored the young Louis XV while in the service to the Crown. However, royal appointment did not pay all the bills, so d’Anville also did some work for the Portuguese Crown from 1724. For example, he helped to fill out Dom João V’s library with geographical works and made maps showing Portugal’s African colonies.  

D’Anville disapproved of merely copying features from other maps, preferring instead to return to the texts upon which those maps were based to make his own depictions. This led him to embrace blank spaces for unknown areas and to reject names which were not supported by other sources. He also amassed a large personal map library and created a network of sources that included Jesuits in China and savants in Brazil. D’Anville’s historical approach to cartography resulted in magnificently detailed, yet modern and academic, maps. For example, his 1743 map of Italy improved upon all previous maps and included a memoir laying out his research and innovations. The geographer also specialized in ancient historical geography.

In 1773, d’Anville was named premier géographe de roi. In 1780, he ceded his considerable library to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to be used for as a reference library for diplomats. D’Anville is best known for several maps, including his map of China, first published in 1735, and then included with Du Halde’s history of that country (the Hague, 1737). His map of Africa (1749) was used well into the nineteenth century.