This exquisitely engraved miniature work is one of the most attractive early maps of Atlantic Canada. The map is centred on Newfoundland, which assumes a fine form familiar to the modern viewer. A line of stipple engraving off shore represents the Grand Banks, and in
an ode to the region’s globally important fishing industry, a large Cod Fish adorns the sea to the northeast of Newfoundland. Various phantom islands dot the open Atlantic, notably ‘S. Brandan’ (Saint Brendan’s Isle).
To the south and west of Newfoundland, the map embraces Cape Breton Island and the entire Gulf of St. Lawrence, including a rudimentary Prince Edward Island and the tip of Quebec’s Gaspé Peninsula, labelled ‘Gaspei’, while Quebec’s North Shore is labelled as ‘Franciae Novae pars’. The Coast of Labrador is shown to bend westward towards the mouth of a strait that was supposedly the entrance of the fabled Northwest Passage to the Pacific Ocean. Throughout the map the early Portuguese nomenclature generally prevails.
The cartography of the map is predicated on Cornelis Claesz’s rare work, Nova Francia (circa 1594). The first edition of the present map appeared in the 1598 edition of Barent Langenes’s miniature atlas Caert-Thresoor, and the same copperplate was used in at least a dozen other works over the next two generations. The present map represented the third re-working of the plate, with the page number ‘h 2’ added in the lower right. The present issue of the map, from Claes Jansz Visscher’s Tabularum geographicarum (1649) is distinct from the other editions, as it is printed on much higher quality paper, giving it a uniquely sharp and resplendent appearance.
The Visscher-Langenes Atlas
The present map is from Claes Jansz Visscher’s exceedingly rare and lovely miniature atlas, Tabularum geographicarum contractarum libri quatuor denuò recogniti (Amsterdam, 1649), a late edition of the atlas Caert-Thesoor, which was first issued under mysterious circumstances in 1597, following some arrangement between the Amsterdam publisher Cornelis Claesz and the obscure Middelburg publisher Barent Langenes (the supposed first edition is now thought lost). Re-issued in several editions (all today rare) over the two generations from 1598, the work set the gold standard for miniature atlases, as Koeman noted “The small maps [it contained] are extremely well-engraved: neat and clear and elegantly composed”. Indeed, the maps were of uncommonly fine engraving, done by artists such as Jocodus Hondius I, Pieter van den Keere and Benjamin Wright. Many of the maps were based on groundbreaking information from recent Dutch voyages of exploration or current events.
The leading Amsterdam publisher Claes Jansz Visscher acquired many of the original Claesz-Langenes plates, plus many of those from the subsequent editions of the atlas, as well as some additional plates not previously published; incorporating all of these into the production of the Tabularum geographicarum (1649). The individual maps are very rare, and the atlas is known in only 2 complete examples: at the British Library and the University of Heidelberg.
The present map of Newfoundland, etc. is extremely rare – we cannot locate another example from the Visscher-Langenes atlas as having appeared on the market during the last generation.
References: Koeman, Atlantes Neelandici, vol. III, Vis 4 - Lan 15 (p. 162); Ashley Baynton-Williams, Map Forum (online article), ‘Barent Langenes: A Collation of his Tabularum Contractarum 1649’, no. 219.