An Important Depiction of the Rio Grande Flowing into the Gulf of Mexico.
A fine wide-margined example of the California, Texas and Southwest globe gore from Coronelli's 42-inch terrestrial globe, published in 1688.
The map is richly illustrated with a number of geographical vignettes and a number of annotation in Italian, including one noting the discovery of the region by the Spanish in 1598 and several other dated annotations, referencing early travels in the region. The cartouche in the Pacific Ocean refers to the debate over California's insularity and references the explorers Cortez, Ulloa, Alarcon and Cabrillo in the region. Offshore, a reference to Nuno Guzman's coastal exploration along the coast of Mexico in 1532 is given. The cartography of the gore is very similar to Coronelli's 2 sheet map of North America, which appeared in his Atlante Veneto, and there is some question as to which was published first.
The Remapping of the Rio Grande
While the most striking feature of the map is the depiction of California as an island, historically, it is Coronelli's treatment of the Rio Grande that is of greatest significance. Earlier map makers had consistently shown the river flowing into the Gulf of California. While Giovanni Battista Nicolosi was the first to properly show the course of the Rio Grande flowing into the Gulf of Mexico, it was not until Coronelli adopted this treatment of the river that it received universal acceptance. One of the annotations in the map adjacent to Il Paeso (El Paso) notes that the course of the river has historically been depicted as flowing southwest, but is correctly shown now flowing northeast.
The map includes a note on either side of the Rio Grande which notes "Scoperta da Spagnuoli L'Anno 1598" (Discovered by the Spaniards in 1598). This is a reference to the expedition of Don Juan de Oñate y Salazar across the Rio Grande River. On September 21, 1595, Oñate was awarded a contract by King Philip II of Spain to settle New Mexico. Spreading Catholicism was a primary objective, but many colonists enlisted in hopes of finding a new silver strike. After many delays, Oñate began his expedition in early 1598. On April 30, 1598, he crossed the Rio Grande River, claiming the region to the north for the Spanish Empire, the foundational basis for Spain's historical claim to Texas. In July 1598, he established the headquarters of his New Mexico colony at San Juan Pueblo, thus effectively extending the Camino Real by more than 600 miles. It was the longest road in North America for several subsequent centuries.
Coronelli as a Globe Maker
Vincenzo Coronelli apprenticed as a xylographer, before joining the Convental Franciscans in 1665. In about 1678, after studying Astronomy and Euclid, Coronelli began working as a geographer and was commissioned to make a set of 5-foot terrestrial and celestial globes for Ranuccio II Farnese, the Duke of Parmar. Coronelli was next invited to Rome to construct a similar pair of globes for Louis XIV. From 1681 to 1683, Coronelli lived in Paris, where he constructed a pair of 10-foot diameter globes for the King, which weigh of nearly 4000 pounds.
The fame and importance of Coronelli's globe led to the production of a 42-inch diameter globe in 1688, for which complete of examples of which reside in a number of major institutional collections around the world. Separate globe gore sheets from this famous globe periodically appear on the market. Coronelli worked for a number of years as a geographer and theologian, before returning to Venice in 1705, where he published his Atlante Veneto and founded the Accademia Cosmografica degli Argonauti.
The popular misconception of California as an island can be found on European maps from the sixteenth through the eighteenth centuries. From its first portrayal on a printed map by Diego Gutiérrez, in 1562, California was shown as part of North America by mapmakers, including Gerardus Mercator and Abraham Ortelius. In the 1620s, however, it began to appear as an island in several sources.
The myth of California as an island was most likely the result of the travel account of Sebastian Vizcaino, who had been sent north up the shore of California in 1602. A Carmelite friar, Fray Antonio de la Ascensión, accompanied him. Ascension described the land as an island and around 1620 sketched maps to that effect. Normally, this information would have been reviewed and locked in the Spanish repository, the Casa de la Contratación. However, the manuscript maps were intercepted in the Atlantic by the Dutch, who took them to Amsterdam where they began to circulate. Ascensión also published descriptions of the insular geography in Juan Torquemada’s Monarquia Indiana (1613) (with the island details curtailed somewhat) and in his own Relación breve of ca. 1620.
The first known maps to show California as an island were on the title pages of Antonio de Herrera’s Descripción de las Indias Occidentales (1622) and Jacob le Maire's Spieghel Der Australische Navigatie (1622). Two early examples of larger maps are those by Abraham Goos (1624) and another by Henry Briggs, which was included in Samuel Purchas’ Hakluytus Posthumus or Purchas his Pilgrimes (1625). In addition to Briggs and Goos, prominent practitioners like Jan Jansson and Nicolas Sanson adopted the new island and the practice became commonplace. John Speed’s map (1626-7), based on Briggs’ work, is well known for being one of the first to depict an insular California.
The island of California became a fixture on mid- and late-seventeenth century maps. The island suggested possible links to the Northwest Passage, with rivers in the North American interior supposedly connecting to the sea between California and the mainland. Furthermore, Francis Drake had landed in northern California on his circumnavigation (1577-80) and an insular California suggested that Spanish power in the area could be questioned.
Not everyone was convinced, however. Father Eusebio Kino, after extensive travels in what is now California, Arizona, and northern Mexico concluded that the island was actually a peninsula and published a map refuting the claim (Paris, 1705). Another skeptic was Guillaume De L’Isle. In 1700, De L’Isle discussed “whether California is an Island or a part of the continent” with J. D. Cassini; the letter was published in 1715. After reviewing all the literature available to him in Paris, De L’Isle concluded that the evidence supporting an insular California was not trustworthy. He also cited more recent explorations by the Jesuits (including Kino) that disproved the island theory. Later, in his map of 1722 (Carte d’Amerique dressee pour l’usage du Roy), De L’Isle would abandon the island theory entirely.
Despite Kino’s and De L’Isle’s work, California as an island remained common on maps until the mid-eighteenth century. De L’Isle’s son-in-law, Philippe Buache, for example, remained an adherent of the island depiction for some time. Another believer was Herman Moll, who reported that California was unequivocally an island, for he had had sailors in his offices that claimed to have circumnavigated it. In the face of such skepticism, the King of Spain, Ferdinand VII, had to issue a decree in 1747 proclaiming California to be a peninsula connected to North America; the geographic chimera, no matter how appealing, was not to be suffered any longer, although a few final maps were printed with the lingering island.
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.