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The Frozen North—A Chart from the Dutch Golden Age of Cartography

Decorative and highly detailed Jansson sea chart of the North Atlantic, focusing on the northern regions from the Faroe Islands north of Scotland west to Baffin Island.

The map covers all or part of the Davis Strait, the southern part of Greenland, Jan Mayen, Iceland and the British Isles.

The toponyms along the coastlines represent encounters of European fisherman and whalers with the lands of the North Atlantic, as well as the explorations of those in search of the Northwest Passage. These include John Davis (ca. 1550-1605), half-brother of Sir Walter Raleigh, who led three voyages to the far north (1585, 1586, 1587), specifically to Greenland, Baffin Bay, and Labrador. A note in the far northwest states, "Here is fresh fish, dead whales, white foxes and fresh salmon."

Iceland was settled in the ninth century by Vikings, although it is likely a group of Hiberno-Scottish monks visited its shores before that. The Viking settlers, and their descendants, bestowed the toponyms seen here.

Icelanders and Norwegians pushed farther west, settling on the southwestern coast of Greenland in the late-tenth century. Their settlements dissipated in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, however, with the onset of the Little Ice Age. The Portuguese charted the southern coastline in the early sixteenth century and, at the beginning of the seventeenth century, King Christian IV of Denmark ordered a series of voyages to claim Greenland for his kingdom. These voyages, although largely unsuccessful, supplied the toponyms in the southeast shown here.   

To the northeast, Greenland’s coastline is only suggestive. The extent of the shore remained unknown at this time. A note explains that this area, “is all ice and big mountains of ice.”

Nearby is Jan Mayen, a volcanic island today controlled by Norway. Although earlier voyages are possible, the island was more permanently brought into the European sphere in the early seventeenth century. At least three separate whaling ventures encountered the island in 1614, resulting in various names for and claims on the island. In the 1620 edition of his map of Europe, Willem Blaeu named the feature Jan Mayen after Captain Jan Jacobszoon May van Schellinkhout of the Gouden Cath, one of the ships that visited in 1614. By the time this chart was made, whaling vessels no longer frequented the outpost, leaving it uninhabited.

Rhumb lines radiate from decorated compass roses; they are periodically interrupted by sea monsters and ships. In the lower left is an embellished scale bar, guarded by a family of merpeople. The title cartouche is flanked by whalers, as whaling was the primary industry for Europeans in this area at this time.  

This chart has a long history amongst Dutch mapmakers of the seventeenth century. The progenitor of the group was by Theunis Jacobsz in ca. 1649. Goos made a similar chart on a new plate in 1650, with Doncker following in 1659 and Loon in 1661. Other derivatives include Theunisz (1662), Colom (1668), Doncker (1676), and Robijn (1689), with a possible final derivative by Visscher in ca. 1690. Some of the later editions have added information on the northeast coast of Greenland, include the outline of Labrador, and each uses distinct cartouches and embellishments.

For this example, Jan Jansson had a partnership with the heirs of Jacobsz and included this version of the chart in the fifth volume of the former’s Novus Atlas. This version includes more of the British Isles and has different cartouches than the Jacobsz.

Burden, maps 288, 289, 337, 364. KAP
Jan Jansson Biography

Jan Janssonius (also known as Johann or Jan Jansson or Janszoon) (1588-1664) was a renowned geographer and publisher of the seventeenth century, when the Dutch dominated map publishing in Europe. Born in Arnhem, Jan was first exposed to the trade via his father, who was also a bookseller and publisher. In 1612, Jan married the daughter of Jodocus Hondius, who was also a prominent mapmaker and seller. Jonssonius’ first maps date from 1616.

In the 1630s, Janssonius worked with his brother-in-law, Henricus Hondius. Their most successful venture was to reissue the Mercator-Hondius atlas. Jodocus Hondius had acquired the plates to the Mercator atlas, first published in 1595, and added 36 additional maps. After Hondius died in 1612, Henricus took over publication; Janssonius joined the venture in 1633. Eventually, the atlas was renamed the Atlas Novus and then the Atlas Major, by which time it had expanded to eleven volumes. Janssonius is also well known for his volume of English county maps, published in 1646.

Janssonius died in Amsterdam in 1664. His son-in-law, Johannes van Waesbergen, took over his business. Eventually, many of Janssonius’ plates were sold to Gerard Valck and Pieter Schenk, who added their names and continued to reissue the maps.