Sign In

- Or use -
Forgot Password Create Account

Fine old color example of Hondius' map of Japan and Korea, published in the middle of the 17th century and showing one of the greatest cartographic myths.

This is one of the finest early Dutch maps of the region, first published in 1606.  The map is based upon the Ortelius-Teixeira map of 1595. It shows Korea as an island and the three principal islands of Japan and part of China. Hondius, in his text is published  notes that it was not yet certain whether Korea was an island or part of the mainland.

The map is embellished with sea monsters, a Japanese junk and a Dutch galleon. It can be distinguished from the later Jansson edition, which replaces the junk with a European vessel.

This map is considered a milestone in the cartography of Japan. It remained the standard map of the region until Martini's map of 1655.

Early Mapping of Japan in Dutch atlases

As stated above, the present map is based on a 1592 manuscript map by Portuguese Jesuit Luíz Teixeira, Iaponiae Insulae Descriptio, which was published in Abraham Ortelius’ famed atlas, Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, in 1595. It was the first map of Japan to be separately published in Europe and, later, the first map of Japan in an atlas.

This 1606 map was published in the first Amsterdam edition of Gerardus Mercator’s important atlas. Mercator’s atlas was published in various forms for nearly a century. At first, the atlas was not extremely successful, as it competed with Theatrum Orbis Terrarum. However, after Jodocus Hondius got possession of Mercator’s plates from his heirs, he published the 1606 edition of the atlas with thirty-six new maps, including Iaponia. New editions in various languages were published regularly over the next several decades, with control passing to Jodocus’ son Henricus after the former’s death in 1612.

Korea as an island

One of the most striking features of the present map is its depiction of Korea as a long, narrow island. This reflects Europeans’ lack of knowledge of the peninsula in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. While Portuguese missionaries and traders were active in both China and Japan by the middle of the sixteenth century, they had little to no direct interaction with Korea.

For his 1592 manuscript map, Texeira likely had direct access to Japanese sources who provided accurate geographical information for that country. He also likely drew on the letters of Jesuit missionaries in Japan at that time. He may have had access to the sketches of Portuguese cartographer Ignacio Morera (or Montera), who visited Japan in 1584 and after. However, sources for information on Korea were even more scarce. The first European to visit the country was Father Gregorio de Cespedes, accompanied by a Japanese friar, in 1593, a year after Teixeira drew his map.

There are a few European maps of this period that correctly identify Korea as a peninsula—a 1588 map by Diogo Homem and a 1630 map by Luíz Teixeira’s son, João Teixeira. A much more accurate map of this entire region by Martino Martini was published by Joan Blaeu in 1655, by which time the Portuguese trading presence in neighboring areas allowed for increased knowledge. Despite this, Korea continued to be depicted as an island on many maps until the late eighteenth century.

European Interaction with Japan

The fact that the present map replicates the same limited geography of Japan and Korea more than forty years after Teixeira’s original map demonstrates the decreasing contact between Europeans and Japan starting in the late sixteenth century.

European navigators, mainly from Spain and Portugal, first arrived in Japan in 1542 or 1543. Portuguese Jesuit missionaries were active in the country beginning in 1549, with the arrival of Jesuit priest Francis Xavier. While the missionaries were at first tolerated by the Japanese, their forceful proselytizing made it increasingly difficult for Christianity to coexist with existing religions. Thus, the first expulsion of missionaries took place in 1587.

With their presence again leading to conflict in the early seventeenth century, shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu issued an edict in 1614 to suppress Christianity in Japan. With the issue still not settled, a series of three Exclusion Decrees issued in the 1630s to diminish non-Japanese influences effectively banned Christianity and isolated the country from Europe. The first decree, issued in 1633, only allowed licensed Japanese ships to trade overseas. The second decree, issued in 1635, prevented Japanese nationals from leaving Japan or returning from other countries. The third decree, issued in 1639, expelled the Portuguese from Japan completely, limiting entry to Chinese and Dutch merchants. This isolation would continue for more than two hundred years, until the end of the Edo period.

These historical events contribute to the present map’s depiction of a fascinating, if flawed, geography that includes Korea as an island.

Korea as an island

The sequence of events and maps that led California to be portrayed as an island are much clearer than another famous peninsula-turned-island, Korea. Korea is briefly mentioned in the thirteenth century by Marco Polo as Cauli (Kauli), but otherwise Korea was not described again for European audiences until the late-sixteenth century.

As with Japan and China, most of the earliest bits of information about Korea came from the Jesuits sending letters sent back from East Asia. However, the Jesuits were not actually stationed in Korea; they could only glean impressions from Chinese and Japanese sources. For example, Father Luis Frois wrote of Korea in the context of a war with Japan in 1578. Frois explained that Korea was separated from Japan by a sliver of sea. It had previously been understood to be an island, he explained, but was now known to be a peninsula. However, why Korea was thought to be an island, by who, and how it was found to be a peninsula was not shared with Frois’ curious readers back in Europe.

The first known European to visit Korea was also a Jesuit, Father Gregorio des Cespedes. He accompanied Japanese troops during another war with Korea in 1592. The territory did not agree with Cespedes, who found it bitingly cold. He did not mention anything about the Korean peoples or their geography.

Travel writers, those who actually traveled and those who were more drawn to the armchair voyage, also wrote about Korea. Jan Huygen van Linschoten spent several years in Goa, India, where he had access to Spanish and Portuguese sources. In his Itinerario, first published in German and English in 1598, he suggests Korea is a large island called Core. Richard Hakluyt read the Jesuit letters, which were republished in sets of annual letters. In the second edition of his Principal Navigations (1599), Hakluyt included the information from Frois and Cespedes, scant as it was.

Given the relative dearth of source material, it is not surprising that early maps by Münster, Mercator and Ortelius omitted Korea entirely. The first map to show Korea was Orbis Terrarum Typus de Integro Multis in Locis Emendatus by Petrus Plancius (1594). It included “Corea” as a long, skinny peninsula barely attached to the northeast corner of China. Edward Wright, in the map accompanying Hakluyt’s Principal Navigations, adopted a similar depiction of Korea, as did other mapmakers from the 1590s onward.

Interestingly, the map that accompanied Linschoten’s Itinerario, by Arnold Floris van Langren, shows Korea as a large, round island. However, no other mapmaker is known to have followed this example. Another early island depiction that was widely adopted was that of Luis Teixeira in the 1595 edition of Ortelius’ Theatrum Orbis Terrarum. The long, thin island was used by several cartographers, including Jodocus Hondius, in the seventeenth century. Blaeu also used the Teixeira model before creating a new Korea in later maps that looked like a bat hanging from China, separated from the mainland by the thinnest of waterways.

Confusion over island vs. peninsula continued across seventeenth-century maps. For example, John Speed includes three separate versions of Korea across four maps in his A Prospect of the Most Famous Parts of the World (1626). It is shown on the Teixeira island model, as a thin peninsula, and as a blunt island. These various hypotheses as to the shape of Korea continued to coexist for decades.

Finally, in the 1650s, Father Martino Martini gathered more information and created a new map of Korea. In China from 1642 to 1651, Martini spent a good deal of time with Chinese maps and their makers. Thus, he created new maps showing Korea as a thicker, nearly rectangular peninsula in Bellum Tartaricum (1654) and the Atlas Sinensis (1655).

Also in the 1650s, a Dutch sailor named Hendrick Hamel was shipwrecked on Jeju, an island near southern Korea. Hamel and his fellow survivors would spend thirteen years in Korea, escaping to Nagasaki in 1666. He wrote about the ordeal in a journal that was published in 1668. Although it lacked maps, the ample descriptions confirmed that Korea gave a detailed, first-hand view of Korean geography and culture.

Nevertheless, several maps were published in the early eighteenth-century showing Korea as an island. The island myth, which most likely stemmed from a misreading of Japanese and Chinese maps by early Jesuits, proved to be quite entrenched. Only in 1735 did Jean Baptiste Bourguignon d’Anville produce a map with a roughly accurate outline of the peninsula and a relatively detailed interior.

Condition Description
Original hand-color. Minor Offsetting.
Jodocus Hondius Biography

Jodocus Hondius the Elder (1563-1612), or Joost de Hondt, was one of the most prominent geographers and engravers of his time. His work did much to establish Amsterdam as the center of cartographic publishing in the seventeenth century. Born in Wakken but raised in Ghent, the young Jodocus worked as an engraver, instrument maker, and globe maker.

Hondius moved to London in 1584, fleeing religious persecution in Flanders. There, he worked for Richard Hakluyt and Edward Wright, among others. Hondius also engraved the globe gores for Emery Molyneux’s pair of globes in 1592; Wright plotted the coastlines. His engraving and nautical painting skills introduced him to an elite group of geographic knowledge seekers and producers, including the navigators Drake, Thomas Cavendish, and Walter Raleigh, as well as engravers like Theodor De Bry and Augustine Ryther. This network gave Hondius access to manuscript charts and descriptions which he then translated into engraved maps.

In 1593 Hondius returned to Amsterdam, where he lived for the rest of his life. Hondius worked in partnership with Cornelis Claesz, a publisher, and maintained his ties to contacts in Europe and England. For example, from 1605 to 1610, Hondius engraved the plates for John Speed’s Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine.

One of Hondius’ most successful commercial ventures was the reprinting of Mercator’s atlas. When he acquired the Mercator plates, he added 36 maps, many engraved by him, and released the atlas under Mercator’s name, helping to solidify Mercator’s reputation posthumously. Hondius died in 1612, at only 48 years of age, after which time his son of the same name and another son, Henricus, took over the business, including the reissuing of the Mercator atlas. After 1633, Hondius the Elder’s son-in-law, Johannes Janssonius, was also listed as a co-publisher for the atlas.