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Fine Italian World Map Featuring Cook’s First Voyage

First edition of Antonio Zatta's decorative double-hemisphere map of the world, published in Venice in 1774.

The geography of the map shows Zatta trying to process the rapidly changing details from recent voyages, including the first voyage of James Cook. Cook’s expedition to view the Transit of Venus in Tahiti is marked on this map (1768-1771). This is reflected in the more complete—yet bizarrely shaped—New Zealand. A long, straight coast in eastern New Holland also shows Cook’s encounter with that part of the continent.

Hokkaido, usually called Ieso or Yesso on maps of this period, is exaggerated in size, as was typical on maps of this period. Madagascar has an eastward bend, another common depiction on maps of the eighteenth century.

The northern portions of North America are still in flux. Greenland and North America appear to be connected and just the suggestion of Alaska is included. This Alaskan outline stems from the Russian voyages of the mid-eighteenth century led by Vitus Bering. The track of the second Bering expedition (1733-43) is included here. There is also a northern route through the Straits of Anian, an antiquated term for the Bering Strait, or the Northern Strait as it is written on this map.

Another track included here in that of Louis-Antoine de Bougainville. The Frenchman set off in 1764 on a circumnavigation and was the second European ship to reach Tahiti.

As with many of Zatta’s maps, the decorative elements are fine and plentiful. Between the hemispheres are an armillary sphere and a compass rose. A floral cartouche includes the title and Zatta’s information. In the four corners are four women who are allegories for the Four Continents. This was a popular artistic trope of the eighteenth century and suggests a world order with Europe ascendent.

Cook's first voyage (1768-1771)

The Transit of Venus is one of the rarest predictable astronomical phenomena, occurring twice in eight years and then not again for over one hundred years (in a 243-year cycle). Observing the time it takes for Venus to transit across the sun can help to calculate the size of the solar system and the distance from the Earth to the Sun. In 1761, scientific societies sought to record the Transit from posts around the world. However, many of the observations were flawed or thwarted by the weather, especially those arranged, in haste, by the Royal Society of London. Determined to not repeat the same mistake, the Royal Society planned a South Sea voyage to view the 1769 Transit in concert with the Royal Navy, as the southern Pacific would be one of the places where the Transit was visible.

The Admiralty chose Lieutenant James Cook to command the expedition, based on his aptitude for charting and instrumentation.  He was joined by Joseph Banks, a wealthy young botanist, and his retinue of scientists and artists. In addition to observing the Transit, Cook was secretly instructed to seek out and claim any potentially-useful territory or resources that his ship, Endeavour, came across.

Cook and his crew sailed from Plymouth on August 25, 1768. It sailed south, to Tierra del Fuego, and then to its destination for the Transit: Tahiti. There, three groups observed the Transit, although their results were imprecise. When the Endeavour left Tahiti in July 1769; on board was a new member of the party, the Rai’aitean priest and navigator Tupaia, along with his servant, Taiato.

The ship headed south, arriving in New Zealand in early October. There, Tupaia found that he could understand and speak with the local people, the Māori. However, this did not prevent several violent incidents that resulted in deaths. While charting the coastline, Cook and the voyage astronomer, Charles Green, observed the Transit of Mercury. The ship sailed round the southern tip of the South Island, proving it was not connected to a southern continent.

Next, the Endeavour set out east, encountering the east coast of Australia in April 1770. They were the first Europeans to do so. After stopping at a place they called Botany Bay, the ship turned north, skirting the coast. Endeavour ran aground on the Great Barrier Reef; while the ship was saved, they had to stop for repairs at Waalumbaal Birri, or Endeavour River. Here, the Europeans saw their first kangaroo and learned its name from the local people, the Guugu Yimithirr. They nearly ran aground again, but narrowly averted disaster and made for Jakarta, then known as Batavia.

In Batavia, many members of the crew became ill. More than two dozen men, including Sydney Parkinson, the voyage artist, the aforementioned Charles Green, and Tupaia, died in Jakarta or at sea soon thereafter. Weakened, the Endeavour called at the Cape of Good Hope and returned to the Thames in July 1771.   

Antonio Zatta Biography

Antonio Zatta (fl. 1757-1797) was a prominent Italian editor, cartographer, and publisher. Little is known about his life beyond his many surviving published works. It is possible that he was born as early as 1722 and lived as late as 1804. He lived in Venice and his work flourished between 1757 and 1797. He is best known for his atlas, Atlante Novissimo (1779-1785), and for his prolific output of prints and books that were both precisely made and aesthetically pleasing. Zatta clearly had a large network from which to draw information; this is how he was able to publish the first glimpse of the islands visited by Captain Cook in the Atlante Novissimo. Zatta also published books of plays and architecture.