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Finely Detailed Early Map of Arabia Featuring Carsten Niebuhr’s Explorations

Based on Carsten Niebuhr’s travel accounts and maps by Jean Baptiste Bourguignon d’Anville, Pierre Antoine Tardieu’s map of Arabia includes more detail than many contemporary depictions.

Centered on the Arabian Peninsula, this map also includes part of Egypt and Persia. Particular attention was paid to accurately representing toponyms, as evidenced by the map’s subtitular claim that a “learned scholar of Arabic has corrected the names of places.”

Like d’Anville’s work upon which this map was based, this map presents itself as focused on geographic accuracy, representative of the marked cartographic shift from lavish decoration to more minimalistic aesthetics. A simple title cartouche is in the lower right corner, with four comparative scale bars in the lower left.

Great care was taken to represent places accurately in relation to known geographic features such as coasts, rivers, mountains, and deserts. Larger towns or cities are symbolized with a small building next to their place names. Islands in the Red Sea and Persian Gulf are depicted with a high level of detail, setting this map apart from other early maps of Arabia.

In prominent lettering Tardieu notes that the “very arid desert is continuous from Mecca to Oman” and there are “large areas full of sand” across much of the Arabian Peninsula. Mecca and Medina are described in larger font as “the territory of the ruler of the race of Mohammed.”

In the tradition of Greek and Roman scholars, Arabia is sectioned into three parts: “Arabie Heureuse” [Arabia Felix], “Arabie Deserte” [Arabia Deserta], and “Arabie Petrée” [Arabia Petraea].

Carsten Niebuhr’s Influence

As noted in the title, Tardieu based parts of this map on information drawn from Carsten Niebuhr’s publications. Carsten Niebuhr (1733-1815), a German mathematician and cartographer, was the famed sole survivor of the Royal Danish Arabia Expedition (1761-1767), charged by the King of Denmark with charting and exploring the Arabian Peninsula.

Beginning in Istanbul, Niebuhr and his four fellow explorers traveled through Palestine and Egypt before embarking on the difficult trek through the desert from Mecca to Yemen. Niebuhr is said to have been the only member of the expedition to adopt local dress and eating habits, ensuring his survival while the rest of his party succumbed to malaria or other illness. Niebuhr’s published accounts of the expedition, along with his numerous charts and illustrations, became the primary source of information about Arabia for European scholars in the eighteenth century.

Several areas on Tardieu’s map contain interesting annotations undoubtedly gleaned from Carsten Niebuhr’s travel accounts. Mahrah, an area of Yemen, is noted as “a sterile country [infertile land] with a particular [unique] dialect.” In the northeast section of the Arabian Peninsula, west of the area marked Bahrain, an area of desert is noted as belonging to the “Amer Rabiaa.”

An excellent map for anyone interested in the historic Middle East, this map is notable for its attention to detail in representing place names and geographic features.

"Carsten Niebuhr, 1733–1815," Nature 131, no. 3306 (1933): 354-355; Casimir Delamarre, Pierre Antoine Tardieu: Map Engraver, (Paris: Geographical Society of France, 1871); Jane Hathaway, "Undying Curiosity: Carsten Niebuhr and the Royal Danish Expedition to Arabia (1761-1767), (Oriens Et Occidens, No. 22) (Book Review)," The American Historical Review 121, no. 1 (2016): 206-07; Michael Heffernan, “A Paper City: On History, Maps, and Map Collections in 18th and 19th Century Paris,” Imago Mundi 66, no. Sup1 (2014): 5-20; “Tardieu, engraver family,” in General lexicon of visual artists from antiquity to the present, volume 32, (Leipzig: EA Sailor, 1938). ACA.
Pierre Antoine Tardieu Biography

Pierre Antoine Tardieu (1784-1869), also known to sign his works as PF Tardieu, was a prolific French map engraver and geographer. The Tardieu family, based in Paris, was well known for their talent in engraving, cartography, and illustration. Pierre Antoine’s father, Antoine Francois Tardieu, was an established cartographer who published numerous atlases. His son is said to have collaborated with him for many years before establishing his own independent career.

Pierre Antoine Tardieu’s most famous work includes engravings of the islands of La Palma and Tenerife, for which in 1818 he was awarded a bronze medal by King Louis-Phillipe for the beauty and accuracy of his mapping. Other famous work includes his mapping of Louisiana and Mexico, engravings of Irish counties, maps of Russia and Asia, and his highly celebrated illustrations of all the provinces of France. He was also the first mapmaker to engrave on steel.

Tardieu was a popular map engraver in his lifetime, enjoying the patronage of the likes of Alexander von Humboldt and respect among his peers. In 1837, he was appointed the title Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur. As was written in his obituary in the Bulletin of the Geographical Society of France, he was renowned for his combination of technical talent and scholarly research skills and praised for furthering his family’s well-respected name in the scientific arts.