Nautical atlas

In the south of Brazil, in the centre of the picture, two opponent Tupi-tribes are fighting against each other. Further southward a Native American lumberjack is felling a tree for a European merchant. In the north tree-trunks are transported and a second group of natives is moving westward, accompanied by two Europeans. The Europeans are probably Frenchmen, although Brazil had been held by the Portuguese since 1500. As neither gold nor silver was found, Portuguese interest rapidly decreased, and for many years only French privateers came there after Brazilian wood.

Nautical atlas. France, 1538. Vellum, 39 leaves, 440 x 312 mm. - 129 A 24, fol. 16r

Nautical atlas.France, 1538. Vellum, 39 leaves, 440 x 312 mm. - 129 A 24, fol. 16r

This chart, displaying part of the Atlantic coast of South America, with Uruguay and the mouth of the Rio de la Plata at the top as the most southern point, and the area around Pernambuco as the most northern region, is one of the charts in an atlas that was made in Dieppe about 1538. The Dieppe cartographers were known for their reliable cartographic material, which they also presented in a very artistic way. They had excellent contacts with Portuguese cartographers, the experts *par excellence *of maritime cartography at the time. No wonder that the basic material for this atlas also came from the Portuguese: the geographical representation, the windroses indicating the points of the compass, and the spelling of the plotted place-names, all point to this origin. The workmanship of the charts with their colourful and imaginative representation of the landscape, the flora and fauna, and the population of the mainland, was carried out in Dieppe. The atlas is dedicated to the Dauphin, the future French King Henry II (1547-1559), and was part of his library, consequently bearing his coat of arms. The atlas is supposed to have been presented to Henry by a lobby of merchants from the Dieppe, Le Havre and Rouen regions, who wanted to persuade Henry's father, King Francis I, also to pay attention to the South American continent. The gestures of the Native Americans in the foreground, pointing to the soil and the French, are thus sometimes explained as an invitation to the French for peaceful colonisation of the land.

Since 1807 the atlas has been in the Koninklijke Bibliotheek. It was part of the collection of Joost Romswinckel that was bought in toto by the Dutch government, and is one of the core collections of the library.


A. Cortesão e A. Teixeira da Mota. Portugaliae monumenta cartographica. Lisboa 1960. Dl. V, p. 132-136. Pl. 614-620
M. Destombes et D. Gernez, 'Un atlas nautique du XVIème siècle à la Bibliothèque Royale de la Haye (Pays Bas)', in: *Marcel Destombes (1905-1983). Contributions sélectionnées à l'histoire de la cartographie et des instruments scientifiques. Utrecht 1987
Susi Colin. Das Bild des Indianers im 16. Jahrhundert. Idstein 1988.