Charting a New World
Hc Svnt Dracones
The age-old phrase Hic Svnt Dracones - or 'Here be Dragons,' first used on the Hunt-Lenox globe of 1505-07 - hints at the precariousness of life for explorers who charted new territories. Maps such as those published in Hartmann Schedel's Liber Chronicarum (Anton Koberger, 1493), shed light on ancient and medieval efforts to understand humankind's place in the world. Schedel's Ptolemaic map is graphically bordered Pliny-influenced composite figures: a hirsute woman; a bipedal centaur; and an ornithomorphic human, all of whom, according to hearsay in the Roman world, occupied the far reaches known lands.
Hartmann Schedel. Liber Chronicarum. Nuremberg: Anton Koberger for Sebald Schreyer and Sebastian Kammermeister, 12 July 1493.
Published nine months to the day after Columbus made landfall in the Americas on 12 October of the preceding year, Schedel's Chronicle retained a distinctly Eurocentric view of the world. Engravers Michael Wolgemut and Wilhelm Pleydenwurif undertook the challenge of preparing the lavishly illustrated volume, an expense made possible by two wealthy patrons, Sebald Schreyer and Sebastian Kamermaister.
Gerhard Mercator. Gerardi Mercatoris atlas sive cosmographicae meditationes de fabrica mundi et fabricati figura. Amsterodami: Henrici Hondij, 1630. Donated by Pieter Hondius.
Though renowned for his cartographic skills and for his development of an innovative projection that improved navigation at sea, Gerhard Mercator travelled little. He depended upon scholars and correspondents around the globe, including mathematician and astrologer John Dee, who promoted Mercator’s work in the English court and who encouraged exploration to the east by way of an as yet undiscovered northern passage.
Etched and handpainted - the painting in the early years by Mercator's wife and daughters - the atlas provides a window into late sixteenth-century understanding of the world.
Exploration between the final decade of the sixteenth century (above, right map, c. 1587) and the late 1620s aided a more careful delineation of the coasts of North and South America.
Additionally, maps of the 1620s were more lavishly illlustrated with ships, sea monsters, and inhabitants of distant lands. All increased interest in the atlas, which remained affordable to only a few.
Matthaeus Seutter. Accurata delineatio celeberrimæ regionis Ludovicianæ vel Gallice Louisiane ot. Canadæ et Floridæ adpellatione in Septemtrionali America: descriptæ quæ hodie nomine fluminis Mississippi vel St. Louis. Augsperg: Germany, [1734?].
Matthaeus Seutter's Mississippi Bubble map depicts the geographical reach of the short-lived French financial scheme masterminded by Scottish financier John Law.
The map shows early eighteenth-century geography, settlements, and territories in North America, with a focus on the Mississippi River. A large inset of the Gulf Coast shows a number of forts and American Indian villages.
Matthaeus Seutter's elaborate cartouche depicts an allegorical, satirical scene of the infamous Mississippi Bubble investment scheme, not unlike the wild, satirical imagery published just several years earlier in Het Groote Tafereel der Dwaasheild (Amsterdam (?), 1720), The Great Mirror of Folly (see far right). A map of the Mississippi (below) accompanies the satirical works of 1720.
Seutter's cartouche features a female personification of the Mississippi River, who pours jewels and riches, while perched on a bubble. Cherubs above the cartouche issue stocks for the company, with piles of worthless stocks accumulating in the foreground. Desperate investors jump from trees; another attempts to impale himself.
Burrit, Elijah H., The Geography of the Heavens and Class Book on Astronomy. New York: Huntington & Savage, 1846, c. 1833.
Unlike Hartmann Schedel's Chronicle and Mercator's Atlas, Elijah H. Burrit's atlas was meant for instruction, and was accessible to a broader audience. The atlas accompanies the book, Geography of the Heavens, also written by Burritt. His work includes maps and plates of the constellations, the relative magnitude of the planets, the inclination of the orbits of the planets, and illustrations of clusters, nebulae, and comets.