Important Antiquarian Maps and Atlases from Martayan Lan
Ortelius' world map on cover of Martayan Lan's latest catalogue.
By Michael Stillman
Martayan Lan has just issued their Catalogue 40 of Fine Antique Maps and Atlases. This is a collection of groundbreaking works, with almost as many "firsts" as maps. The catalogue begins with maps dating from as far back as the 15th century, depicting the world of Ptolemy, unchanged for 13 centuries. However, the world quickly expanded and came into focus over the next few centuries, with each succeeding map usually showing a bit more of that new world, brought home to Europe by the great explorers. This catalogue is a fantastic history lesson, each part being a fascinating new adventure as well as object of art. This is a collection of knowledge made beautiful. We can only touch the surface of what is available, but if you are interested in some of the finest and historically most important maps and atlases ever made, you will want to see this catalogue.
Where better to start than with what Martayan Lan describes as "the very first printed map." It was originally created by Bishop Isidore of Seville some nine centuries earlier, finally making it into print less than two decades after the invention of the press. It is a small map, 2 3/4" x 2 3/4" which appeared on a page in the 1472 book Etymologiae. It is about as rudimentary as a map can be. It is what is known as a "T-O" map. The shape is circular, with an outer circle representing the oceans, and an inner circle containing a "T." To the left and right of the vertical line of the "T" are Europe and Africa, to the top of the horizontal line is Asia. The vertical line (between Europe and Africa) is, naturally, the Mediterranean, while the horizontal is a more fanciful sea, likely consisting of a combination of waterways such as the Nile. You would have a hard time getting anywhere using this map as a guide, but its purpose was more likely to emphasize God's role in the world than to provide directions. The "T" is evidently symbolic of the cross. Item 1. Priced at $95,000.
Item 22 is another first, this time for Americana collectors. It is a second state of the first separate map of the Americas, from the 1545 edition of Sebastian Munster's Geographia. By this time, it was known that the Americas were separate from Asia, and the shape of South America is more or less familiar, but North America remained full of mystery. Florida and the Gulf Coast, as well as Cuba and Hispaniola are quite realistic, though the Yucatan is still shown as an island. However, the map incorporates a misinterpretation by Verrazano of waters inside the Carolina outer banks as being an inlet of the Pacific (the result being the continent is almost divided in half by an imaginary arm of the Pacific), and Japan is shown as an island just off a west coast located around the western border of Texas. $11,500.
Item 10 depicts perhaps the first map of Australia... or does it? This is the 1571 Montanus world map intended to show how the descendants of Noah spread across the globe. In the approximate location of Australia there is a large, triangular shaped landmass, pointed north. What makes this surprising is that, as best known today, this land had not yet been discovered by Europeans. This has led to speculation that there was a now lost earlier Portuguese exploration which first discovered this continent. Others have suggested this was a product of Montanus' imagination. My guess, looking at other aspects of the map, is that this was meant to be the tip of a huge Antarctic landmass then referred to as Terra Australis Incognita (which is otherwise unseen on this map), widely believed to exist at the time. See the map on the cover of this catalogue to view the enormous southern continent once believed to exist. $18,000.
Important Antiquarian Maps and Atlases from Martayan Lan
North America, as seen through French eyes in the 17th century.
Item 178 has been described as the "first modern atlas." This is Abraham Ortelius' great Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, the 1592 edition of a work first published in 1570. The atlas grew by 80 maps between the first edition and this. It is called the "first" as this was the first systematic collection of maps of the world since the time of Ptolemy, when the known world was much smaller. At the time, Ortelius' atlas was the most expensive book ever published, with hand-colored copies such as this even more expensive. The world map is pictured on the cover of Martayan Lan's catalogue (click the thumbnail image on page 1 to enlarge), and it dramatically displays the gigantic, imagined southern continent, with an arm reaching into what is now known as Australia. Priced at $225,000.
Item 27 is a circa 1710 edition of the Jaillot 1674 map of North America, based on Sanson's 1650 map. What is today the United States is broken into five regions. The smallest is the British colonies along the Atlantic coast, the largest is New France, including Canada. Canada then borders on Florida to the South, New Mexico to the west. Finally, to the far west is an island -- California. The Northwest is simply left out, as it was unknown territory at the time. Though published in Amsterdam, it is French in origin, explaining why the most accurate inland feature is the St. Lawrence River, with a reasonable look at the Great Lakes considering the era. The California island myth would persist into the 1700s before finally being reattached to the mainland. Click the thumbnail image on this page to see the map. $12,500.
There are many more maps of the world and western hemisphere within this catalogue, but that's only the tip of the iceberg. There are also many regional U.S. maps, Canada, South and Central America, Asia, Africa, numerous European countries, and various other regional maps, plus atlases and celestial charts. You may visit Martayan Lan online at www.martayanlan.com, telephone 212-308-0018.