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A Milestone in the Mapmaker's Art: The First Printed Map to Include Decorative Allegorical Figures as a Border

This is a nice example of this important double hemisphere world map, by Petrus Plancius, the first printed map to include decorative allegorical figures to embellish the area surrounding the hemispheres.

The map is a veritable feast for the eyes, as every inch of the document is covered with information and artful imagery. The two hemispheres, east and west, are dominated by a giant southern continent labeled as Magallanica. There are three ships in full sail in the Atlantic (2) and Indian Oceans (1), while a large sea monster lurks off the western coast of South America. Above and below the joining of the hemispheres are the corresponding celestial spheres showing constellations in the northern and southern hemispheres. Plancius was well-known for his work on southern hemisphere constellations. Squeezed between these four hemispheres are an armillary sphere and a compass rose.

Surrounding the geographic and cosmographic details are the allegorical figures representing the major regions of the world (clockwise from upper left corner): Europa, Asia, Africa, Magallanica, Peruana, and Mexicana. In each vignette, a woman represents the qualities, as perceived by Europeans, of that particular place, while the backgrounds show the landscape, flora, fauna, and peoples.

Europa: Europa sits with a scepter in hand and with her foot on the orb and cross, signaling her royalty. She wears a gold-plated breast plate and crown. She is the only allegorical figure not seated on an animal, showing Europe's level of civilization as compared to the rest of the world. Within her arms is a large cornucopia, emphasizing abundance and fertility, while below her are an armillary sphere, books, lute, caduceus, horn, helmet and rifle; the objects symbolize the arts and natural philosophy, music, and warfare, all of which were seen as crucial contributions of Europe to the world. Behind her is a scene of combat: infantry troops-red vs. blue-stand in battle lines and fire upon each other, while a naval battle takes place at sea in the distance. Farther off, animals graze in a pastoral scene, with a shepherd playing his flute to his sheep.

Asia: Asia is also dressed in riches, with gold bordering her sleeves and pant cuffs. She holds a tree and a thurible billowing incense. She is seated upon a rhinoceros in a forest; gold and jewels fill a box at her feet. She gazes out upon a battle scene; two cavalry units with spears advance upon each other. Farther off, mirroring the Europe vignette, is a pastoral scene, this one filled with giraffes, camels, elephants, and a unicorn.

Africa: Unlike her two previous continental counterparts, Africa has no riches surrounding her. She is in a loincloth and a large round sunhat with chest exposed. She holds a bow, a spear, and an umbrella. She sits on a crocodile with elephants, lizard, snake, ostrich, and lions stretched before her. In the distance are the pyramids and someone placing a naked body in a tomb-the only signs of civilization associated with Africa in this Eurocentric interpretation.

Magallanica: The most fanciful part of the map for most will be the section on Magallanica. Named for Ferdinand Magellan, the leader of the first circumnavigation (although he personally did not make it to end of the trip), Magallanica was one of the many names for the fanciful and variably-sized southern continent thought to counter-balance the norther continents. Lady Magallanica is dressed in European style in a laced blouse with a high, stiff neck and long skirt. She is holding a tree in either hand and is seated on an elephant. Behind her, a volcano erupts. Before her is a massive herd of elephants with naked human riders wielding spears. On the ground are a griffin and what appear to be meerkats; in the sky are a phoenix and a dove. The fantastic assortment shows imagination and projection of values for which the southern continent served as a blank canvas.

Peruana: In the new world, the overall themes of warfare and resources are also present. The allegorical figure, like Africa, is in but a loincloth and headdress. She carries a long-handled ax and sits atop a jaguar with her feet in a bag of gold coins. Parrots, monkeys, pelicans, goats, and llamas are near her. Another erupting volcano underlines the volatility of this civilization, in the Europeans' minds, as compared to their own cultures. Speaking of Europeans, three ships are in the harbor in the background, coming to interrupt the scene of cannibalism that is shown in gruesome detail.

Mexicana: This vignette is only slightly less hyperbolic in its claims. There is one small fire for cannibalism, while the larger fire cooks lizards and fish. In the background is an army in formation, armed with bows and arrows. The weapons are repeated in the hands of the lady, who is tattooed, strewn with a feathered garment that still leaves her chest uncovered, and adorned with gold jewelry. She sits on an anteater, with her feet in a box of gold near an assortment of food including pomegranate, squash, and berries.

Geographic significance

The map has great importance geographically, particularly in the mapping of the Arctic and the Far East. As to the latter, Plancius' contacts with merchants and navigators lent him access to all the latest geographic information. This is the first time Korea appears as a peninsula, not an island, and Japan is shown using the Portuguese Luíz Teixeira's outline.

The Pacific Ocean is also a place of innovation. While Ortelius' Maris Pacifici (1589) is clearly an influence, Plancius makes several changes from his own previous maps. For example, New Guinea had been a large, round island on former maps (for example, Plancius' 1590 world map); here it is integrated into the huge continent of Magallanica. The Solomon Islands remain conspicuous, having been first contacted by Mendaña in 1568. Most of the Pacific toponyms are Spanish, underlining Plancius' access to Spanish and Portuguese geographic knowledge.

Perhaps the most striking feature of the map, however, is the huge southern continent, Magallanica. Based on continental balance theory, sixteenth century mapmakers often projected the southern hemisphere as covered by a massive continent, including Oronce Fine and Gerard Mercator. It was Mercator's influence that popularized the term "Magallanica," as opposed to "Terra Australis". Eventually, the latter would become more popular. Magallanica as a name reflects the assumption that Magellan had contacted the land during his circumnavigation (1519-1522), which explains the place names near Tierra del Fuego. Some of these names also came from later circumnavigators like Francis Drake. Tierra del Fuego is shown here as a part of the southern continent; it would not be confirmed as an island until the early seventeenth century.

On the Asian side, the southern continent swoops up to include New Guinea. As was common, the southern continent also includes the place names Beach, Maletur, and Lucach, all from Marco Polo's Travels. These three places were regions in Java. As can be seen, a Java minori is near to Maletur. This conflation of Java with the southern continent stemmed from an error. Initially, Polo used Arabic usage of Java Major for Java and Java Minor for Sumatra; he also said that the latter was the largest island in the world, hence the confusion. After a printing mistake in the 1532 editions of Polo's Travels (Paris and Basel), mapmakers started to make a landmass to accommodate Java Minor, Beach, Lucach, and Maletur. Plancius followed this convention.

Plancius' other area of expertise besides Asia, the Arctic, is also exceptional. During Plancius' lifetime he was an advocate for the Northeast Passage and he instigated the three voyages of Willem Barentsz (1594-1597) into the area. He used this map to give cartographic encouragement to the Dutch crews by turning Novaya Zemlya into an island, with open sea between it and the Arctic. It is one of four islands closely ringing the pole, a nod to Mercator's map of the North Pole. A sprinkling of English names in the Canadian Arctic appear as a result of Frobisher's and Davis's explorations in search of the passage in 1576-1587. The entire area is designed to make a passage seem more plausible, a combination of cartographic compilation and wishful thinking.

Artistic Significance

This striking map of the world, engraved by the Dutch master Jan van Doetecum, holds the distinction of being the first world map to use an allegorical figure style of richly decorated borders that would become the standard for world maps for a century to come. The elaborate borders were inspired by drawings in the works of Theodore de Bry, published a few years earlier.

The use of women to represent geographic regions--particularly Europe, Asia, Africa, and America--would gain popularity throughout the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries. The accompanying flora and fauna would fluctuate slightly, but the overall perception of civilization as a hierarchy, with Europe at the top, would persist. This was due to European overseas imperial expansion. Some famous examples of the trope include the ceiling frescoes at the Wurszberg Residence (1750-3) and the statues adorning the Albert Memorial in Kensington Gardens, London (1872).


The hemispheres in this map are based on an earlier world map (1590) that was in a Bible edited by Plancius. That state was also released in 1592, and in other bibles in 1612 and 1621. The 1594 map was originally released separately and then later became part of Linschoten's Itinerarium (1599). Dutch editions were printed in 1605, 1614, 1623, and 1644. French editions were released in 1610, 1619, and 1638. Interestingly, there was a derivative version made by Josua van den Ende for Pieter van den Keere in 1604 that had the pictures reversed; it was re-released in 1607.

Plancius maps are uncommon on the market as they were never reprinted in atlas form. This map only exists in multiple copies because it was reprinted, unchanged, in Itinerarium during the seventeenth century. According to Worldcat, this map by only a few institutions including Princeton, Yale, Illinois State University, the John Carter Brown Library, the William Clements Library at the University of Michigan, the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, and in two libraries in Germany. However, the map is not always fully colored, as this example is. The John Carter Brown copy and the Paris copy, by contrast, are only outlined or uncolored entirely.

Condition Description
Cleaned and restored. Margins extended, with several minor tears, expertly repaired on verso. Minor areas of loss reinstated along lower neatline, just entering the printed image. Significant bleed-through to verso from incorrect sizing.
Alfred Hiatt, Terra Incognita: Mapping the Antipodes Before 1600 (London: The British Library, 2008); Marco Larner, Marco Polo and the Discovery of the World (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999); Louis Rey, ed., Unveiling the Arctic (Calgary: Arctic Institute of North America, 1984); Anne M. Scott, Alfred Hiatt, Claire McIlroy, and Christopher Wortham, eds., European Perceptions of Terra Australis (Farnham: Ashgate, 2011); Shirley, 187. KAP
Petrus Plancius Biography

Petrus Plancius (1552-1622) was born Pieter Platevoet in Dranouter in West Flanders. He trained as a clergyman in Germany and England, but he was an expert not only in theology but in geography, cosmography, and navigation. After fleeing prosecution by the Inquisition in Brussels, Plancius settled in Amsterdam where he first began his forays into navigation and charting. As Amsterdam was a hub for trade, Plancius was able to access Portuguese charts, the most advanced in the world at that time. Plancius used these charts to become an expert in the sailing routes to India, knowledge that gained him opportunity. Plancius was one of the founders of the VOC, for whom he worked as their geographer. He also served on a Government Committee to review the equipment needed for exploratory expeditions.