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Fine, Early Map of Peru from the Mercator-Hondius Atlas

Striking map of the Viceroyalty of Peru, published by Jan Jansson in Amsterdam during the Dutch Golden Age. This is an early depiction of the area, when it was one of the most lucrative colony in the Spanish Empire.

The map, which appeared in the famous Mercator-Hondius atlas, shows Peru with an eastern orientation. The colony is laid out along the length of its Pacific coast, with the high, steep-sloped interior fading into the top of the map and the cartouche. The extremely mountainous nature of the country is evident, with ranges of sharp peaks blanketing the land.

Rivers are also marked, along which are the locations of many of the settlements, indicated by small red buildings or dots depending on their size. Lake Titicaca is prominently shown, with several islands inside. At sea, three ships are in full sail, indicating Peru’s importance to commerce and trade. Two sea monsters also patrol the waters, a reminder of the dangers to be found in the Pacific Ocean.

Besides an embellished compass rose, the major decorative element is the large strapwork cartouche in the upper left. Delicate floral patterns, ribbons, and garlands surround the simple title and the double scale. 

The Viceroyalty of Peru and the silver trade

Peru was initially settled by several indigenous civilizations before the Inca rose to prominence in the fifteenth century. A powerful empire, their capital was at Cusco, which is at the center of this map. In 1532, however, the Spanish overcame the Inca Emperor Atahualpa in the Battle of Cajamarca. Eventually, the Spanish conquered a large territory and consolidated it into the Viceroyalty of Peru, shown here, which included parts of present-day Ecuador, Bolivia, Venezuela, and Chile. The Spanish declared their capital at Lima, “The City of Kings”, which is why it is written as Lima Los Reyes on this map.  

Peru was the most lucrative Spanish holding, and the richest of any imperial holding in the world, in the seventeenth-century because of one resource: silver. Lima was the center of a global trade that enriched many, but at the expense of hundreds of thousands of lives. The mining town at Potosi, to the south, or right, on this map, at 4,000 meters above sea level, was founded in 1546. Over the next two centuries, 40,000 tons of silver were shipped down the mountain and over the seas. The mining was done by indigenous people and imported slaves who suffered terrible diseases, accidents, and abuse; many perished. In 1672, Potosi became the site of the first mint in the Americas. With a population of at least 160,000, the city was the fourth largest city in the world in the mid-seventeenth century, outstripping London, Milan, and Seville. At its peak, the city supported 22 dams which powered 140 mills for grinding the silver ore.

La Paz, near Lake Titicaca and now the capital of Bolivia, was founded by Alonso de Mendoza in 1548 with the intention of serving as a principal town in the route from Potosi and another mining center, Oruro, to the Spanish port at Lima on the Pacific. The Spanish invaded and conquered Cusco in 1533 and it became a regional center for trade, agriculture, mining, and ranching. Lima had been conquered a year earlier, in 1532, and named as the capital; it was also named the site of a Real Audiencia in 1543. The city became the major port of the Spanish Empire on the western South American coast and it was at its height when this map was made.  

From Lima, the silver would depart by ship for Portobello, Panama, where it would be packed overland and then shipped to Spain via the Caribbean and the Atlantic. Perhaps even more significant, yet less well known, was the huge proportion of the silver that instead was shipped to Acapulco and then across the Pacific to Manila, which was founded in 1571. From Manila, the silver would underwrite Spanish, and European, trading with China. The flow of silver sowed the seeds of a global capitalist system and marked the definitive beginning of the global economy we are still a part of today.

Dutch Golden Age and the Americas

The Dutch experienced what is referred to by historians as a Golden Age in the seventeenth century. The term can apply to the extraordinary volume and quality of Dutch art in this period, but also to the prominence of Dutch traders in international commerce and finance, as well as to the dominance of Dutch geographers and publishers, who led the European map and atlas trade throughout the century.

The Dutch participated in the European silver trade and profited from it. Although they were not allowed to trade with Peru directly—the Spanish kept a closed trading policy with their empire—they did engage in the global commerce links that were increasingly common by the mid-seventeenth century.

Although better known for their East India Company (VOC), which began trading in the East Indies at the turn of the seventeenth century, the Dutch were also involved in the Americas under the auspices of the Dutch West India Company and other companies. Their most famous settlement was at New Amsterdam, now New York.

However, the West India Company also had holdings in South American and the Caribbean, such as Curacao, St Martin, Dutch Brazil, and Dutch Guyana. When this map was first featured in the Mercator-Hondius atlas, in the 1630s, the Dutch were starting to challenge the Portuguese for holdings in South America. However, they lost their foothold in Brazil in 1654. This map was made at the height of Dutch interest in South America, including Peru, which sat in the middle of a global trade network in which the Dutch were powerful players.  

The Mercator-Hondius-Jansson atlas

This map appeared in the Mercator-Hondius atlas from the early 1630s, when Jansson joined the business venture with his brother-in-law, Henricus Hondius. Gerard Mercator died in 1594 without having completed his most ambitious project, an atlas of the entire world. His son and grandsons completed the work and released its final volume in 1595. The younger Mercators released another edition in 1602, but they then sold the plates to Hondius in 1604. Hondius included this map in his first edition in 1606 and in subsequent editions; there were roughly 50 editions in various European languages in the seventeenth century.

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. 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.

Jan Jansson joined the partnership ca. 1630, having married the younger Hondius’ sister. From 1633, Johannes Janssonius was also listed as a co-publisher for the atlas. Their combined maps, added to Mercator’s, eventually created an eleven-volume work, the Atlas Major, which was rivalled only by the Blaeu’s atlases.

This map, from one of the most important publications of the Dutch Golden Age, in turn shows one of the most important colonial holdings of the seventeenth century, an area that interested not only Spain, but also its imperial rivals.

Elizabeth A. Sutton, Capitalism and Cartography in the Dutch Golden Age (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015). KAP.
Jan Jansson Biography

Jan Janssonius (also known as Johann or Jan Jansson or Janszoon) (1588-1664) was a renowned geographer and publisher of the seventeenth century, when the Dutch dominated map publishing in Europe. Born in Arnhem, Jan was first exposed to the trade via his father, who was also a bookseller and publisher. In 1612, Jan married the daughter of Jodocus Hondius, who was also a prominent mapmaker and seller. Jonssonius’ first maps date from 1616.

In the 1630s, Janssonius worked with his brother-in-law, Henricus Hondius. Their most successful venture was to reissue the Mercator-Hondius atlas. Jodocus Hondius had acquired the plates to the Mercator atlas, first published in 1595, and added 36 additional maps. After Hondius died in 1612, Henricus took over publication; Janssonius joined the venture in 1633. Eventually, the atlas was renamed the Atlas Novus and then the Atlas Major, by which time it had expanded to eleven volumes. Janssonius is also well known for his volume of English county maps, published in 1646.

Janssonius died in Amsterdam in 1664. His son-in-law, Johannes van Waesbergen, took over his business. Eventually, many of Janssonius’ plates were sold to Gerard Valck and Pieter Schenk, who added their names and continued to reissue the maps.