Fer, Nicholas de
- Carte de la Mer du Sud, et des Costes d'Amerique et d'Asie, situées sur cette Mer ... Carte de la Mer du Nord, et des Costes d'Amerique, d'Europe et d'Afrique, situées sur cette Mer. Paris: 1713
- paper, ink, paint
Framed in two frames (each 29 x 84 in.; 737 x 2,134 mm), old folds and expert repairs.
The end of the War of the Spanish Succession brought renewed French interest in the western hemisphere. Spain's debts from the war offered an opportunity for French imperialism in the region, with speculative riches in Louisiana, lucrative Spanish mining interests in South America, as well as a profitable trans-Pacific silver trade between Acapulco and Manila. William Dampier's successful expeditions on behalf of England, as well as Dutch exploration in the Pacific, prompted curiosity among the French and the present landmark map was published.
At the time, Nicholas de Fer was the most accomplished cartographer in France. In 1690, he became the official geographer to Louis, Dauphin of France and with support from the Spanish and French Royal Families, de Fer later became official geographer for Philip V and Louis XIV. Known particularly for the artistic quality of the decoration on his maps, the present wall map is without question his cartographic masterpiece and would be used as the basis for Henri Chatelain's slightly reduced and more commonly found Carte des Tres Curieuse de la Mer du Sud, published six years later.
Masterfully engraved by P. Starckman, the map is centered on America, with the coasts of Europe and Africa shown at the far right, and the Japan and coast of Asia, including parts of Australia shown at the far left. Cartographically, the mapping of America follows contemporary mappings, with a large depiction of California as an island based on information gathered by Father Eusibio Kino before 1695 and with the Mississippi River entering the Gulf far to the west of its true Delta. In North and South America, the map includes hundreds of toponyms gleaned from a variety of sources; across the Pacific, the routes of explorations are shown, as are the principal Spanish trade routes.
The chief glory of the map, however, is the elaborate insets, vignettes, and surrounds. At the top of the map, above North America are nine circular portraits of famed explorers, including Columbus, Vespucci, and Magellan. In the upper left corner is a large vignette scene of beavers constructing a dam at the base of Niagara Falls, adapted from Hennepin and famously copied by Herman Moll on his "beaver map" of North America the following year. Moll, further used de Fer's map as a source for his "cod fish" map, copying a vignette in the upper right corner showing the cod fishery off the Grand Banks. Along the entire bottom of the map are insets of various harbors and towns, with separating borders comprised of vignette scenes of natives and local flora and wildlife, including birds, reptiles and animals. Included among these scenes are images of gold and silver mining, hunting, cooking, sugar refining, human sacrifices, and more. De Fer's panoramic map is a visual encyclopedia of geographic information and history.
"De Fer's map of the Americas offers an iconographic feast of imagery for those trying to grasp the implications of European colonial intrusion into societies whose otherness was their most defining feature. The map seems to suggest both economic opportunities (resources to exploit) and cultural clashes (among peoples whose customs, rites, and mores were so vastly different). The decorative vignettes are adapted from illustrations in various accounts of the first European encounters in the New World" (Harvard Library, Going for Baroque: The Iconography of the Ornamental Map, online exhibition).
The map is very rare, with only one other copy recorded in the auction records and only a handful of copies located in institutions, with no examples at the Library of Congress or the British Library.