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Fine Decorative Map of Asia

Detailed and attractive, separately-issued map of Asia by Tavernier, based on the work of Petrus Bertius.  

The map encompasses the entirety of the continent, including the Arabian Peninsula, the Indian subcontinent, Maritime Southeast Asia, and Japan. A sliver of the American continent, separated from Asia by an unnamed strait, is in the upper right corner. In the lower left, a considerable portion of East Africa is featured, with an emphasis on the Nile.

Place names are spread throughout the map, but they are especially thick in the Arabian Peninsula, Persia, and Southern India. There are fewer toponyms and less definite borders in parts of Maritime Southeast Asia, Nova Zembla, and Northeast Asia. These areas were still being encountered and charted by Europeans, hence their lack of assurance here. Korea is shown as a peninsula, which is different than on a comparable contemporary map by Blaeu. Japan is shown in a horizontal position, a typical depiction for the early seventeenth century.

Although focused on the geography of the continent, the map also has a few embellishments. In Africa, there is a pair of lions in Egypt. An elephant is in upper India, near Lake Chiamay. Both a note and a depiction of the Great Wall of China separate China from Tartary. At sea, several ships—European and Chinese—are sailing. They would do well to look out for sea monsters, which are also in the waters. A cherubic mermaid is also in the water, blowing a horn.

The publisher’s cartouche is in the upper left corner, tucked into mainland Europe. In the upper right corner, another cartouche carries the title and acknowledgment of the work of Bertius.  

Lake Chiamay

Lake Chiamay first appeared on a map in 1554 when it was included on the terza tavola in the second edition of volume one of Ramusio’s Delle navigationi et viaggi. Drawn by Giacomo Gastaldi, this map of South and Southeast Asia shows a massive lake from which four rivers flow; these are commonly interpreted as the Chao Phraya, Salween, Irrawaddy, and a branch of the Brahmaputra, but also sometimes include other rivers.

Reports of the lake came from two Portuguese sources: a geographer, João de Barros, and an explorer, Fernão Mendes Pinto. Pinto wrote letters describing a great lake. Barros likely saw these letters. He, in turn, compiled a history of Asia, Décadas da Ásia, that mentioned the lake; Ramusio included Barros’ work in his own compilation of travel and exploration.   

Barros describes a lake that begat six rivers, but the map in Ramusio’s work shows only four. However, Gastaldi’s 1561 map, Tertia Pars Asiae, shows six rivers leaving and two entering the lake. After appearing in such an authoritative work, the lake was taken up by other mapmakers. Many used the Ramusio/Gastaldi model. Others innovated on the theme of this geographic chimera, as no such lake exists in the area.

Luis Jorge de Barbuda’s 1584 map shows the lake farther to the north and with a different river pattern. His model was taken up by Hondius in India Orientales (1606) and thereafter by many others. The Jesuit Martino Martini gathered information from his travels in eastern and northern China to compile Imperii Sinarum Nova Descriptio (1655). Martini included the lake, but added the Red River and had the Chao Phraya originate from a different lake. Around 1570, other maps appeared that gave Lake Chiamay only two outlets.

As more Jesuit knowledge of Southeast Asia filtered back to Europe, mapmakers such as Guillaume Delisle began to question the veracity of the lake. It last was added to a map by Vaugondy in 1751; it was reprinted in map reissues, however, until at least 1783. By the early-nineteenth century, the feature was understood to be nothing more than a cartographic myth. By the early-twentieth century, expeditions had definitively proven that no such lake existed.

Melchior Tavernier Biography

Melchior Tavernier was a member of a large family involved in the publishing trade in Paris in the early years of the seventeenth century. Early in his career, he apparently collaborated with Henricus Hondius, as at least one of his early maps references Tavernier as the seller of a map engraved in Amsterdam, by Hondius. He is probably best known for his publication of a map of the Post Roads of France, which was copied many times until the end of the century. He also issued an atlas under the same title as J. le Clerc's Theatre Geographique, using many of Le Clerc's maps, but incorporating others from different sources. He published composite atlases and also published works for other cartographers, including N. Sanson, N. Tassin, and P. Bertius. He is not to be confused with his nephew of the same name (1594-1665), who also engraved maps for Nicolas Sanson.