Great decorative copperplate engraving showing three ships at sea, originally published in Coronelli's Atlante Veneto. The ships shown are fascinating renditions of what Europeans at the time imagined ships from the Far East to look like.
The upper image shows a nobleman's bark from Siam, while the lower image shows the bark of the King of Siam (modern-day Thailand). While the upper image is ornate, the lower ship is extremely well furnished, with many oarsmen and a ruddermen sitting high above the waves.
Interestingly, we can tell something about how the present image was printed by closely examining the edges of the ship's images, and how they interact with the intricate decorative borders that surround them. The boats and border were printed from separate copper plates but on the same sheet. This practice was not unheard of but is rather unusual.
Coronelli's Atlante Veneto was intended to accompany Blaeu's Atlas Maior and contained abundant maps. However, due to the idiosyncratic nature of the publication of the book, images of Coronelli's ships are rarer today than his maps are.
Vincenzo Maria Coronelli (1650-1718) was one of the most influential Italian mapmakers and was known especially for his globes and atlases. The son of a tailor, Vincenzo was apprenticed to a xylographer (a wood block engraver) at a young age. At fifteen he became a novice in a Franciscan monastery. At sixteen he published his first book, the first of 140 publications he would write in his lifetime. The order recognized his intellectual ability and saw him educated in Venice and Rome. He earned a doctorate in theology, but also studied astronomy. By the late 1670s, he was working on geography and was commissioned to create a set of globes for the Duke of Parma. These globes were five feet in diameter. The Parma globes led to Coronelli being named theologian to the Duke and receiving a bigger commission, this one from Louis XIV of France. Coronelli moved to Paris for two years to construct the King’s huge globes, which are 12.5 feet in diameter and weigh 2 tons.
The globes for the French King led to a craze for Coronelli’s work and he traveled Europe making globes for the ultra-elite. By 1705, he had returned to Venice. There, he founded the first geographical society, the Accademia Cosmografica degli Argonauti and was named Cosmographer of the Republic of Venice. He died in 1718.