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Fine Mortier World Map Published in Amsterdam—Interim State!

Fine double-hemisphere world map published by Mortier in Amsterdam. This state, which carries Delisle’s name, is not included in Shirley’s survey of world maps.

There are several intriguing points of geographic interest. Frislande haunts the North Atlantic, for example. The largest geographic mystery included, however, is certainly the hypothetical coasts of a southern continent, a persistent geographic chimera of this period. The coasts, although unjoined, circle the south pole and suggest a huge landmass.

Japan is suggestively attached with shaded coasts to Terre d’Yeco and then to Asia, making it a peninsula. Yeco was the name often given to Hokkaido, whose geography was unknown at this time and therefore open to creative interpretation.

Nearby, and stretching into the far west of the western hemisphere, as a series of shadow islands between Japan and North America. These are Terre de la Compagnie and Gama Land, chimeras of the seventeenth century which suggested to mapmakers that large islands were extant in the North Pacific.

The southern tip of South America retains its strange westward curve and point, a shape that would be altered on later states. Tierra del Fuego is also unfinished, suggesting a larger island.

In the Pacific, the Solomon Islands are far too far to the east. This is the result of a misunderstanding of their longitude stemming from the first voyage of Alvaro de Mendaña in 1567-1569.

Speaking of Mendaña, he is not the only explorer referenced on the map. There are a series of ships’ tracks that crisscross the world’s oceans.

  • Magellan’s track sets out across the Pacific. Ferdinand Magellan led a squadron of ships on the world’s first circumnavigation from 1519-1522. He died in the Philippines. Only one of the ships, the Victoria, returned with eighteen survivors led by Juan Sebastián Elcano.
  • The route of “Gaetan” in 1542 refers to Juan Gaetano, pilot on the expedition led by Ruy López de Villalobos. In 1541, the Viceroy of New Spain ordered Villalobos to sail west. Departing Mexico in late 1542, he led six ships across the Pacific to the Philippines, which he named for Philip II.
  • A short dotted-line runs from Tierra del Fuego to Juan Fernandez, off the coast of Chile. This is one of the voyages of Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa. Later, after Drake menaced Spanish settlements during his 1577-80 circumnavigation, Gamboa would pitch a settlement in the Straits of Magellan. The proposed colony was attempted, but failed miserably.
  • Another route repeats the name of Mendaña, but it also adds the name Quiros with a date of 1595. Quiros had sailed with Mendaña on his second Pacific voyage in 1595. The young navigator became obsessed with the idea of the southern continent and wrote a series of memorials to champion his cause. In 1605, the Spanish Crown granted him a voyage. He did find land, but it was Vanuatu, not a massive and unknown mainland. He supposedly founded a city and performed elaborate possession rituals, but his crew forced him to return to Spanish holdings. He vowed to return but died while preparing another expedition.
  • Van Noort’s route parallels that of the buccaneer Dampier across the Pacific. Oliver van Noort was the first Dutchman to circle the world, and the ninth overall to do so, in 1598-1601.
  • Le Maire and Schouten led an attempt to undermine the Dutch East India Company monopoly on the entrance to the Pacific via the Straits of Magellan. They found an alternative route around Cape Horn via a strait now named for Le Maire. They then went on to complete a circumnavigation of the globe from 1615 to 1617.
  • The journey of Pelsaert in the Batavia in 1629 is also marked near the west coast of Australia. Batavia departed Texel in the Netherlands in October 1628 and had a troubled journey round the Cape of Good Hope. A VOC official, Jeronimus Cornelisz, and the ship's skipper, Ariaen Jacobsz, hatched a munity against Pelsaert, the merchant in command of the ship. The mutiny failed, but the Batavia ran aground in Western Australia in June 1629. Pelsaert sailed for Batavia, on the island of Java, in the ship’s boat to get help. Four months later Pelsaert returned to a grisly scene. Cornelisz had seized control and set up a tyrannical government. He and his supporters killed over 100 people. Pelsaert tried the mutineers and executed some of them on Seal Island. He returned to Batavia, where he was blamed for a lack of authority and stripped of his assets.
  • Tasman’s route appears on the eastern and western hemispheres and refers to his first voyage of 1642-3. This expedition, funded by the Dutch East India Company, was the first to circumnavigate the whole of the Australasia region, thus proving it was a separate entity unconnected from a mythical, and massive, southern continent. Tasman surveyed the south coast of Tasmania, which he called Van Diemens Land after the VOC governor of Batavia, and the western coast of New Zealand, as well as the Tonga and Fiji Archipelagos.
  • In the Indian Ocean is the route of the Chevalier de Chaumont. The Chevalier led the first French embassy to Siam, arriving in 1685. They returned the two Siamese diplomats who had visited the court of Louis XIV in 1684. Chaumont eventually gained fame as a travel writer, but as a diplomat he failed to convert the Siamese King to Catholicism or to secure lucrative trade deals.
  • William Dampier, after writing a celebrated voyage account of his years as a buccaneer, was given command of HMS Roebuck. From 1699 to 1701 he led an ill-fated expedition that sunk the Roebuck yet also led him to land on eastern Australia. 

The ornate double hemisphere map includes four polar hemispheric projections in the corners, allowing one to view the earth from varying angles. In the upper left corner is the southern hemisphere, while the northern hemisphere is to the upper right. The lower corners repeat this symmetry, but the projections there are oblique in perspective. They center on Paris and its antipodes. In all four cases, the relatively unknown Polar Regions are highlighted.

Although there is little decoration within the graticule of the hemispheres, the map is quite ornate. The title is enclosed in a cartouche. Arrayed around the sides of the cartouche's frame are four women representing the continents: Europe, America, Africa, and Asia. A ribbon unfurls across the top declaring the dedication: Nova Orbis Tabula ad Usum Serenissimi Burgundiae Ducis, a new world map for the use of the Duke of Burgundy.

Along the bottom edge of the map are the publishers' details. Mortier's privilege is proclaimed from inside an aquatic-themed cartouche. A sea monster's mouth makes up the top of the frame, surrounded by marine vegetation. Two mermaids, a female and a male, are at either side. The man, to the left, blows a conch, while the women, to the right, strokes a large fish. The sea stretches in the background, peppered with sailing vessels of all sizes.

States of this map

The map is a mixture of influences and information. The first state of this world map released by Mortier references Sanson in the title cartouche, not Delisle, but is also based on the work of Hubert Jaillot. Shirley dates this first state to 1696, but it includes the route of Dampier, whose first book was not published until 1697, thus a date of ca. 1697 is more likely.

In the present state, Delisle’s name has replaced Sanson’s, which is most likely a reference to the latter’s rising profile. Deslisle published a world map in 1700, his first. It bears a similar title to this work and was likely added here in anticipation of further changes to the plate.

However, this map retains the geographic information of the previous state, including the coasts of a southern continent evident on the 1696 state. Later states would omit this hypothetical feature, as well as add more explorer’s tracks and revise South America as Delisle himself did on later states of his 1700 world map. Revisions continued into at least the 1740s.

North Pacific chimeras: Yesso, De Gama, and Compagnie Land

The etymology of the idiom Yesso (Eso, Yeco, Jesso, Yedso) is most likely the Japanese Ezo-chi; a term used for the lands north of the island of Honshu. During the Edō period (1600-1886), it came to represent the ‘foreigners’ on the Kuril and Sakhalin islands. As European traders came into contact with the Japanese in the seventeenth century, the term was transferred onto European maps, where it was often associated with the island of Hokkaido. It varies on maps from a small island to a near-continent sized mass that stretches from Asia to Alaska. 

The toponym held interest for Europeans because the island was supposedly tied to mythic riches. Father Francis Xavier (1506-1552), an early Jesuit missionary to Japan and China, related stories that immense silver mines were to be found on a secluded Japanese island; these stories were echoed in Spanish reports. The rumors became so tenacious and tantalizing that Abraham Ortelius included an island of silver north of Japan on his 1589 map of the Pacific.

Yesso is often tied to two other mythical North Pacific lands, Gamaland and Compagnies Land. Juan de Gama, the grandson of Vasco de Gama, was a Portuguese navigator who was accused of illegal trading with the Spanish in the East Indies. Gama fled and sailed from Macau to Japan in the later sixteenth century. He then struck out east, across the Pacific, and supposedly saw lands in the North Pacific. These lands were initially shown as small islands on Portuguese charts, but ballooned into a continent-sized landmass in later representations.

Several voyagers sought out these chimerical islands, including the Dutchmen Matthijs Hendrickszoon Quast in 1639 and Maarten Gerritszoon Vries in 1643. Compagnies Land, often shown along with Staten Land, were islands sighted by Vries on his 1643 voyage. He named the islands for the Dutch States General (Staten Land) and for the Dutch East India Company (VOC) (Compagnies, or Company’s Land). In reality, he had re-discovered two of the Kuril Islands. However, other mapmakers latched onto Compagnies Land in particular, enlarging and merging it with Yesso and/or Gamaland.

In the mid-eighteenth century, Vitus Bering, a Danish explorer in Russian employ, and later James Cook would both check the area and find nothing. La Perouse also sought the huge islands, but found only the Kurils, putting to rest the myth of the continent-sized dream lands.

The Zeno Map and the mythical island of Frisland

The Zeno family was part of the Venetian elite; indeed, their family had controlled the monopoly over transport between Venice and the Holy Land during the Crusades. Nicolo Zeno set off in 1380 to England and Flanders; other evidence seems to corroborate this part of the voyage. Then, his ship was caught in a huge storm, blowing him off course and depositing him in the far North Atlantic. He and his crew were wrecked on a foreign shore, the island of Frislanda (sometimes Friesland or Freeland).

Thankfully, the shipwrecked Venetians were found by King of Frisland, Zichmni, who also ruled Porlanda, an island just south of Frisland. Zichmni was on a crusade to conquer his neighbors and Nicolo was happy to help him strategize. Nicolo wrote to his brother, Antonio, encouraging him to join him and, good navigator that he was, Antonio sailed for Frisland and arrived to help his brothers. Together, they led military campaigns against Zichmni’s enemies for fourteen years.

Their fights led the brothers to the surrounding islands, presumably enabling them to make their famous map. Zichmni attempted to take Islanda but was rebuffed. Instead, he took the small islands to the east, which are labeled on this map. Zichmni built a fort on one of the islands, Bres, and he gave command of this stronghold to Nicolo. The latter did not stay long, instead sailing to Greenland, where he came upon St. Thomas, a monastery in Greenland with central heating. Nicolo then returned to Frisland, where he died four years later, never to return to Venice.

Antonio, however, was still alive. He ran into a group of fishermen while on Frisland. These fishermen had been on a 25-year sojourn to Estotiland. Supposedly, Estotiland was a great civilization and Latin-speaking, while nearby Drogeo, to the south, was full of cannibals and beasts. Antonio, on Zichmni’s orders, sought these new lands, only to discover Icaria instead. The Icarians were not amenable to invasion, however, and Antonio led his men north to Engroneland, to the north. Zichmni was enthralled with this new place and explored inland. Antonio, however, returned to Frisland, abandoning the King. From there, Antonio sailed for his native Venice, where he died around 1403.

News of the discoveries and the first version of the Zeno map was published in 1558 by another Nicolo Zeno, a descendent of the navigator brothers. Nicolo the Younger published letters he had found in his family holdings, one from Nicolo to Antonio and another from Antonio to their other brother, Carlo, who served with distinction in the Venetian Navy. They were published under the title Dello Scoprimento dell’isole Frislanda, Eslanda, Engrouelanda, Estotilanda, & Icaria, fatto sotto il Polo Artico, da due Fratelli Zeni (On the Discovery of the Island of Frisland, Eslanda, Engroenland, Estotiland & Icaria, made by two Zen Brothers under the Arctic Pole) (Venice: Francesco Marcolini, 1558).

At the time of publication, the account attracted little to no suspicion; it was no more and no less fantastic than most other voyage and travel accounts of the time. Girolamo Ruscelli published a version of the Zeno map in 1561, only three years after it appeared in Zeno’s original work. Ruscelli was a Venetian publisher who also released an Italian translation of Ptolemy. Ruscelli had moved to Venice in 1549, where he became a prominent editor of travel writings and geography.

Ruscelli was not the only geographer to integrate the Zeno map into his work. Mercator used the map as a source for his 1569 world map and his later map of the North Pole. Ortelius used the Zeno islands in his map of the North Atlantic. Ramusio included them in his Delle Navigationo (1583), as did Hakluyt in his Divers Voyages (1582) and Principal Navigations (1600), and Purchas (with some reservation) in his Pilgrimes (1625). Frisland appeared on regional maps of the North Atlantic until the eighteenth century.

In the nineteenth century, when geography was popular as both a hobby and a scholarly discipline, the Zeno account and map came under scrutiny. Most famously, Frederick W. Lucas questioned the validity of the voyage in The Annals of the Voyages of the Brothers Nicolo and Antonio Zeno in the North Atlantic (1898). Lucas accused Nicolo the Younger of making the map up, using islands found on other maps and simply scattering them across the North Atlantic. He also accused Nicolo of trying to fabricate a Venetian claim to the New World that superseded the Genoan Columbus’ voyage. Other research has revealed that, when he was supposed to be fighting for Zichmni, Nicolo was in the service of Venice in Greece in the 1390s. He is known to have drafted a will in 1400 and died—in Venice, not Frisland—in 1402.

Scholars still enjoy trying to assign the Zeno islands to real geographic features. For example, Frisland is thought to be part of Iceland, while Esland is supposed to be the Shetlands. Some still believe the Zenos to have sailed to these lands. Most, however, view the voyage and the map as a reminder of the folly and fancy (and fun) of early travel literature and cartography. Whatever the truth, the Zeno map and its islands are one of the most enduring mysteries in the history of cartography. 

Marco van Egmond, Covens & Mortier: A Map Publishing House in Amsterdam 1685-1866 (Leiden: BRILL, 2009); R. K. Headland. Chronological List of Antarctic Expeditions and Related Historical Events (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989; Norman J. W. Thrower, ed. The Three Voyages of Edmond Halley in the Paramore 1698-1701 (London: Hakluyt Society, 1981), document 84; Shirley, 581, 603. KAP
Pierre Mortier Biography

Pierre, or Pieter, Mortier (1661-1711) was a Dutch engraver, son of a French refugee. He was born in Leiden. In 1690 he was granted a privilege to publish French maps in Dutch lands. In 1693 he released the first and accompanying volume of the Neptune Francois. The third followed in 1700. His son, Cornelis (1699-1783), would partner with Johannes Covens I, creating one of the most important map publishing companies of the eighteenth century.