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Delightful Sanson Map Curiously Focusing on French Rivers

Attractive example of Sanson's 1641 double-page engraved map of the rivers of France. This curiosity was published in a series of maps focusing on the geography of France. While most of Sanson's maps denoted political boundaries and show roads or cities, this map instead only denotes hydrological features. Sanson was the first great mapmaker of the golden age of French cartography and his maps are prized for their exacting standards and attractive qualities.

The concept of hydrological mapping was virtually unknown at the time of the publication of this map, and we were unable to find an earlier example of a map that solely focuses on the rivers of France. Crossing points are also shown for the rivers which would have proved important for understanding the defensive capabilities of various regions.

Names are given to all but the smallest tributary streams shown on the map. The "5 great rivers of France" (the Seine, Loire, Garrone, Rhone, and Rhine) are clearly shown and each is shaded in a different set of colors. Detail extends into the Low Countries, Switzerland (with its many lakes), Italy, and southern England.

The text in the upper right-hand side of the map explains to a potential confused reader the purpose of this map. Sanson defends his map as exactingly precise, and states that many of the rivers found here are unlikely to be found on national or even regional maps.

Old Color

We have not found another example of this map in which the coloring gives so much attention to the rivers themselves. Other colored examples have used the rivers solely to attempt to trace regional boundaries, showing the confusion that early artists may have had in comprehending the purpose of a hydrological map. This example, in contrast, colors only the major rivers along with their primary tributaries.

Nicolas Sanson Biography

Nicholas Sanson (1600-1667) is considered the father of French cartography in its golden age from the mid-seventeenth century to the mid-eighteenth. Over the course of his career he produced over 300 maps; they are known for their clean style and extensive research. Sanson was largely responsible for beginning the shift of cartographic production and excellence from Amsterdam to Paris in the later-seventeenth century.

Sanson was born in Abbeville in Picardy. He made his first map at age twenty, a wall map of ancient Gaul. Upon moving to Paris, he gained the attention of Cardinal Richelieu, who made an introduction of Sanson to King Louis XIII. This led to Sanson's tutoring of the king and the granting of the title ingenieur-geographe du roi

His success can be chalked up to his geographic and research skills, but also to his partnership with Pierre Mariette. Early in his career, Sanson worked primarily with the publisher Melchior Tavernier. Mariette purchased Tavernier’s business in 1644. Sanson worked with Mariette until 1657, when the latter died. Mariette’s son, also Pierre, helped to publish the Cartes générales de toutes les parties du monde (1658), Sanson' atlas and the first French world atlas.