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Important Map of the Indian Ocean Basin

Striking, detailed map of the Indian Ocean ringed by eastern Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and India from Jan Huygen van Linschoten's influential Itinerario.

As Tibbets notes, Linschoten’s work offered a significant improvement in the mapping of India and the Middle East. Additionally, his voyage and accounts made him "one of the pathfinders for the first Dutch voyages to the East" (Schilder, p. 195), voyages which led to Dutch supremacy in the East Indies.

The map, particularly its islands, are drawn in a portolan style, which speaks to the Portuguese portolan sources that Linschoten accessed while serving the Bishop of Goa. This is one of the first published maps of the area to be based on Portuguese sources, as the Portuguese usually kept their geographic knowledge under lock and key. Besides portolan charts, Linschoten also used the work of Plancius, Fernão Vaz Dourado, and Bartolomeu de Lasso.

The map stretches from Cyprus to Bengal, the Caspian Sea to the Maldives. The land is thickly blanketed with towns and cities, rivers and especially mountain ranges. The Red Sea is thickly flanked with sandbars.

The Indian Ocean is criss-crossed with rhumb lines and dominated by a large compass rose. There are also two large sea monsters, both of which are menacingly close to a ship in full sail.

The region is described in both Latin and Dutch in the upper right corner, accompanied by a scale and framed by handsome strapwork.

Langren, Linschoten, and the Itinerario

This map was designed by Arnold Florent van Langren and engraved by his brother, Henricus in 1595. They were members of a prominent family of engravers. Along with their father, Jacob, the brothers also produced globes. The Van Langren family was granted a monopoly over globe production by the States General in 1592. In 1609, Arnold moved his family from Amsterdam to Antwerp, where his sons Jacob and Michael joined the business.

One of Arnold’s most famous clients was Jan Huyghen van Linschoten (1563-1611). As a young man, Linschoten traveled the world as part of the Portuguese East Indies trade. In 1583, his brother secured him a position as the Secretary to the Archbishop of Goa, a Portuguese colony. While abroad, he kept a diary, and began collecting other travelers’ diaries and accounts upon his return.

In 1594, Linschoten set out with Willem Barentsz on an exploratory expedition to find the Northeast Passage. The crew had many adventures, including an encounter with a polar bear, which they killed while attempting to capture it. Eventually, the crews had to turn back because of ice, a situation that also happened with a similar expedition the following year.

Upon his return, Linschoten published his journal from the Barenstz voyages. In 1595, he also published Reysgheschrift vande navigation der Portugaloysers in Orienten (Travel Accounts of Portuguese Navigation in the Orient) based on his research. The work includes sailing directions in addition to descriptions of lands still new to Europeans, like Japan. In 1597, Linschoten published again, this time a description of the African coast.

His most famous work, however, is Itinerario: Voyage ofte schipvaert van Jan Huyghen van Linschoten naer Oost ofte Portugaels Indien, 1579-1592 (Travel account of the voyage of the sailor Jan Huyghen van Linschoten to the Portugese East India). It was published in 1596 by Cornelis Claesz in Amsterdam. It was quickly translated into English (1598), German (1598), and French (1610). Latin editions appeared in Frankfurt in 1599 and Amsterdam in 1599.

Although Linschoten is known as the author of the Itinerario, he had a lot of help. Claesz convinced Linschoten to widen the project from his trip to Goa to include sailing directions and geographic descriptions, materials acquired through subterfuge from the Portuguese. The sailing directions proved important to the founding of the East India Company in 1602, as they revealed information previously kept clandestine by the Portuguese. Another person who played a role in the production of the book was Bernardus Paludanus, or Berent ten Broecke, who wrote the sections on Africa and America.

Claesz was also largely responsible for the addition of the maps. The first Amsterdam edition had a world map by Petrus Plancius, first published in 1594, and five detail maps, which were made by Arnold and his brother Henricus. This is one of the most detailed, beautiful and influential maps of the region of the sixteenth century.

The first Dutch voyages to the East Indies

Trade with the Indian subcontinent and the East Indies was becoming a central focus for the Dutch when this map was made. The Portuguese were the first Europeans to gain power in the East Indies, trading for spices in the Moluccas and controlling the spice market in Europe. The Dutch wanted in on the lucrative trade, but they also had to contend with the Portuguese.

The first step in establishing a trade was to gather information. Nine merchants sent Cornelis and Frederik de Houtman to Lisbon in 1592 to gather intelligence about the Portuguese spice trade. This had to be clandestine trip, as the united Crowns of Portugal and Spain closed the Iberian Peninsula’s ports to Dutch ships in 1585 as part of the Eighty Years’ War. The brothers were not careful enough, as they were imprisoned for attempting to steal charts of the East Indies sailing route. Two years later, the Houtmans did manage to return north, and they carried details about the route to the East Indies and the Portuguese presence there.

Their return coincided with that of Jan Huygen van Linschoten from India. Together their reports convinced merchants that the Dutch should attempt to start a trade at Bantam. The merchants founded the Compagnie van Verre and financed a fleet of four ships to sail to the East Indies. The ships were under the command of Cornelis and the brothers and their crews left Amsterdam on April 2, 1595.

Unfortunately, this was not to be an easy voyage. Insufficient provisions meant that scurvy struck the crews only a few weeks after setting out. The brief stopover in Madagascar turned into a mass funeral for seventy sailors. Aboard ship numerous squabbles and disagreements broke out.

In June 1596, the ships arrived at Banten, a port in northwestern Java. They had passed through the Sunda Strait, not the Malacca Strait. The latter was under surveillance by the Portuguese and the Dutch ships did not want to risk an confrontation.

In Banten, Houtman met with the Sultan. The leader agreed upon a treaty with the Dutch. However, relations quickly soured due to Houtman’s lack of diplomacy. Instead, the ships tried to reach Madura, but pirates attacked them en route. The ships limped into Madura and promptly attacked the people, who had received them peacefully, in retaliation for the acts of piracy. This proved rash; the pirates were not from Madura and the ships again had to sail on.

They next came ashore at Bali. Finally, they traded for a few peppercorns after meeting with the islands’ king. Later, at Bawean, the crews decided to burn the Amsterdam, one of the four ships, in order to consolidate their supplies and men. They turned back before ever reaching the actual Spice Islands, the Moluccas.

On their way home, the Portuguese prevented the ships from stopping at Saint Helena. 249 men had set out and only 87 returned. While the expedition was a disaster for most of the men involved, it provided an important victory for the Dutch. Houtman’s men did deliver some spices back to their merchant backers and they had made important initials contacts in Indonesia.

After Houtman, and spurred by the stories in Linschoten’s Itinerario, the second Dutch expedition (1598-1599) quickly set sail for the East Indies. It returned a 400% return for its investors. It quickly was followed by five others. In 1602, the most powerful of these merchants and the Dutch government, the States General, created the Dutch East India Company (VOC), a monopoly to control the East Indies trade.

Cornelis died in battle against the forces of the Sultan of Aceh in 1599. Frederik was captured by the Sultan of Aceh when his brother was killed. While imprisoned, he studied the Malay language. Back in Amsterdam, he published the first Malay dictionary in 1603. He served as the governor of Amboina (Ambon) (1605-11) and the Moluccas (1621-23), an employee of the VOC. In 1619, he encountered shoals off the west coast of Australia which are named for him, the Houtman Abrolhos.

G.R. Tibbetts, #46; R.A. Skelton (Decorative), pl.29; G. Schilder, Monumenta V, p.140; R. Clancy, p.70. KAP