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Description

The Second Map to Closely Focus on the Arctic Discoveries of Davis and Frobisher

Important early map of the Northwestern Atlantic, published by Jean Metellus, after Wytfliet's map of the same subject that was published a year earlier. Metellus's map is identical in nomenclature but lacks the Arctic Circle and latitude or longitude markings.

Despite being the second in line, Metellus's map is substantially rarer than that of Wytfliet, and thus highly prized by collectors.

The map is central to the history of Canadian cartography as it is the second (after Wytfliet) to show the encounters of the Davis and Frobisher expeditions in such detail. This map shows the most detailed geography of the region then available.

The map includes part of the Canadian Maritimes, Greenland, Iceland and Labrador, along with an early, high-resolution depiction of the mythical lands of Frisland and Estotiland.

Both Frisland and Estotiland appeared on Mercator's 1569 map, but this is the second map to focus specifically on these locations. Frisland is remarkably detailed, with eleven settlements clearly marked. Other interesting features include the mysterious R. de Tormenta and "a furions [furious] over fall" emptying into the Davis Strait. This is the second indication of the Hudson Strait, and it is thought to have inspired Hudson in his search for a Northwest Passage near this location.

This was an early map to include the findings of the expeditions of John Davis and Martin Frobisher; it is the second to focus so minutely on their discoveries. Frobisher (ca. 1535-1594) was an English privateer and sometime pirate who led three voyages north (1576, 1577, and 1578). He sailed to the south of Greenland, into the Hudson Straits, and up Frobisher Bay on Baffin Island. Davis (ca. 1550-1605), half-brother of Sir Walter Raleigh, led three voyages to the far north (1585, 1586, 1587), specifically to Greenland, Baffin Bay, and Labrador.

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. 

Reference
Burden 116.
Johannes Matalius Metellus Biography

Johannes Matalius Metellus, also known as Jean Matal or Johannes Metellus Sequanas, was born in Poligny, Burgundy, France in ca. 1517. A humanist scholar, he was a polymath devoted to cartography, geography, law, paleography, and antiquarianism. Late in life he published a series of atlases; all his maps and atlases are rare and highly sought-after.

Matal was educated at Dole, Freiburg, and several Italian institutions. At Bologna, he met Antonio Agustín, a Spanish legal scholar, who recruited Matal to be his secretary. Together, the men researched ecclesiastical law, with an especial emphasis on Roman legal manuscripts, with trips to Venice, Florence, and elsewhere in Italy to study codices. In 1555, the two traveled to England to meet with Queen Mary on a mission for the Church.

After leaving his employment with Agustín, Matal traveled in the Low Countries and eventually settled in Cologne. There, he mixed with other savants, including especially Georg Cassander and Pedro Ximénez. It was in Cologne that Matal began his serious interest in mapmaking. He contributed to Braun and Hogenberg’s Civitae Orbis Terrarum; Georg Braun described him in glowing terms, “vir omni scientiarum genere praestans"—"a man outstanding in every form of knowledge."  

Late in life, Matal began preparing a set of maps of the entire world. In 1594, he published an atlas of France, Austria, and Switzerland (39 maps), in 1595 an atlas of Spain (10 maps), and, posthumously, an atlas of Italy (37 maps), and one of Germany and the Netherlands (55 maps). Many of these maps were combined and augmented into atlases of Europe, Asia, Africa, the Americas, and the world’s islands. In 1602, a compendium work showcased all of these previous works called Speculum Orbis Terrae; this atlas was well received by contemporaries like Walter Raleigh and is very rare today. Many of these maps and atlases were released after his death in 1598, they were finished by his friend and fellow mapmaker Conrad Loew (Matthias Quad).