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Sanson’s Fine Map of Africa, from his Influential Atlas

Nice example of Sanson's second map of Africa, with significant corrections and improvements made by his son, Guillaume Sanson.

The map shows the entirety of the African continent, with part of the Arabian Peninsula. Madagascar is shown as curved, a typical depiction for the time. The map also includes the southernmost tips of Europe, the Canaries, the Cape Verde Islands, and the very tip of Brazil.

The inclusion of Brazil and the curving label of Ocean Meridional Ethiopien suggest that this map is not only about the continent of Africa, but also the sea route around Africa to the East Indies. Ships would typically stop in Brazil before rounding the Cape of Good Hope and crossing the Indian Ocean.

The geography of Africa seems to be crowded with mountains ranges, lakes, and labels, but, in reality, Europeans knew little about interior Africa at this time. As with this 1650 initial map of Africa, Sanson has avoided including ships at sea or animal in the interior, instead preferring to emphasize only those features that he could verify via his own research.

On Sanson’s first map of Africa, he rejected the Mountains of the Moon, a geographic hypothesis of the Nile’s source posited by Ptolemy. In this second Sanson map of Africa, Guillaume has added them again, between the large Lac Zaire/Zembre and another large lake.

Guillaume also reduced the east-west coverage slightly, so that even less of Brazil is shown than before. The Azores have also been removed. New to this map is a second St. Helena in the South Atlantic, an addition that would haunt maps of the region for decades to come.

The map featured in a new edition of Cartes générales de toutes les parties du monde. First published in 1658 by Nicolas Sanson, the Cartes générales was the first French world atlas. The 1670 edition, in which this map was included, had many maps that were updated by Guillaume, as his father had died in 1667.

While the first version of Nicolas Sanson's map appears on the market with some frequency, this second map is much scarcer on the market.

Wulf Bodenstein, Exploring Africa with Ancient Maps (Brussels: Royal Museum for Central Africa, 2017), map 25. KAP
Guillaume Sanson Biography

The son of famous French cartographer Nicolas Sanson, Guillaume (1633-1703) carried on his father's work. Like his sire, he was a court geographer to Louis XIV. He often worked in partnership with another prominent cartographer of the time, Hubert Jaillot.

Nicolas Sanson Biography

Nicholas Sanson (1600-1667) is considered the father of French cartography in its golden age from the mid-seventeenth century to the mid-eighteenth. Over the course of his career he produced over 300 maps; they are known for their clean style and extensive research. Sanson was largely responsible for beginning the shift of cartographic production and excellence from Amsterdam to Paris in the later-seventeenth century.

Sanson was born in Abbeville in Picardy. He made his first map at age twenty, a wall map of ancient Gaul. Upon moving to Paris, he gained the attention of Cardinal Richelieu, who made an introduction of Sanson to King Louis XIII. This led to Sanson's tutoring of the king and the granting of the title ingenieur-geographe du roi

His success can be chalked up to his geographic and research skills, but also to his partnership with Pierre Mariette. Early in his career, Sanson worked primarily with the publisher Melchior Tavernier. Mariette purchased Tavernier’s business in 1644. Sanson worked with Mariette until 1657, when the latter died. Mariette’s son, also Pierre, helped to publish the Cartes générales de toutes les parties du monde (1658), Sanson' atlas and the first French world atlas.