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Early Example of Philippe Buache's Theories on Submarine Mountain Chains, an Important Part of the Early History of Thematic Mapping

Scarce example of Buache’s two-part map of Fernando de Noronha and the mid-Atlantic, illustrating his theoretical ideas on transoceanic mountain ranges.

The map is actually two maps and two elevation profiles. First, the upper left half portrays the geographic relationship between Africa and South America. Accompanying this map is a cross-section of the sea floor showing an undersea mountain range, although stretches of the sea floor are of still-unknown depth.

In the lower right half is a map of Noronha, complete with banks of soundings showing a sloping sea floor. In the lower right corner is tucked a plan of the archipelago, with the lower portion of the plan showing the sea floor as it rises to create the exposed land of the islands.

Both maps are filled with text blocks explaining Buache’s theories. He didn’t just think that the sea floor between Africa and South America resembled the mountain ranges seen on dry land, he thought they were a direct extension of their land-based counter-parts. He presented this system to the Academie des Sciences on September 6, 1737; an extract of that presentation is included in the upper right corner. The Academy was intrigued by his ideas and encouraged their further study—eventually Buache would extend this theory from the Atlantic Ocean to include the entire world.

The maps and infographics are dynamic and impactful. In the late-eighteenth century, this map would be used by Giovanni Rinaldo Carli in support of his theories regarding the lost civilization of Atlantis and the prospect that an ancient land bridge once existed between West Africa and South America.

Philippe Bauche, theoretical geography, and thematic mapping

Buache was a pioneering theoretical geographer interested in demonstrating the interconnectedness of the world’s landmasses. In 1737, the same year this map was published, Buache drew a bathymetric map of the English Channel and he published it the Academie’s Memoires in 1752. At the top of this map was a cross-section scale showing the depths of the Channel and its hidden features, much like the one of the Atlantic shown on this map.

Buache was also interested in watersheds, which he argued were created by interlinked mountain ranges which circled the globe. These mountain ranges provided routes for rivers to flow to the sea. At sea, as seen on this map, islands were proof of mountain ranges which connected the continents. Buache presented this mountain chain idea at the Academie in September 1737, as mentioned above, and again in November 1752.

To prove his case, he used a map of the world on a polar projection which highlighted the mountain ranges and watersheds—it is thought to be one of the first thematic maps. A similar world map would also accompany Buache’s published essay on the subject, An Essay of Physical Geography, wherein it is proposed to present General Views on what may be called the Framework of the Globe, composed of mountain systems that cross seas as well as continents; with some particular remarks on the different basins of the sea, and on its interior configuration (1752).  

Fernando de Noronha

Discovered as early as 1500, Noronha was visited by Americo Vespucci in 1502. Despite Vespucci's description of the island as "paradise," both the Portuguese and Dutch were unable to populate the island for over two centuries.

The French Compagnie des Indes found the island uninhabited and completely abandoned in 1734, at which time an officer of the company compiled the base used for this map. Two years later the French returned, took the island and renamed it "Isle Dauphine", hoping to use it as a base for the slave trade. The Portuguese sent a force to dispossess the French in 1737, the year of publication of this map, and then spent a fortune fortifying it to prevent the French from returning. They also constructed a prison colony on the island.

In 1832, Charles Darwin visited on the voyage that inspired his Origin of the Species, making Noronha influential in both geographic and evolutionary debates.   


The map is scarce on the market. This is the first example we have offered for sale.

George Kish and Philippe Buache, “Early Thematic Mapping: The Work of Philippe Buache,” Imago Mundi 28 (1976): 129-136. KAP
Philippe Buache Biography

Philippe Buache (1700-1773) was one of the most famous French geographers of the eighteenth century. Buache was married to the daughter of the eminent Guillaume Delisle and worked with his father-in-law, carrying on the business after Guillaume died. Buache gained the title geographe du roi in 1729 and was elected to the Academie des Sciences in the same year. Buache was a pioneering theoretical geographer, especially as regards contour lines and watersheds. He is best known for his works such as Considérations géographiques et physiques sur les découvertes nouvelles dans la grande mer (Paris, 1754).