The age of the discoveries.

The early 1400's brought about great advances in European exploration. In order to make trade more efficient, Portugal attempted to find a direct route by sea to India and China. By using a direct water route, Arab merchants, who owned the land trade routes, would no longer be able to profit from the European trade merchants. After Columbus discovered the New World in 1492, it was clear that conflict would soon arise over land claims by Spain and Portugal. The Portuguese also wanted to protect their monopoly on the trade route to Africa and felt it was threatened. It was only after the realization that Columbus had found something that was neither Asia nor an Island, that land became the important issue. The newly discovered land held great potential wealth which could benefit European nations.

On May 4, 1493 Pope Alexander IV took action to clear up any confusion that may have arisen over territorial claims. He issued a decree which established an imaginary line running north-south through the mid-Atlantic, 100 leagues (480 km, 298 mile) from the Cape Verde Islands. Spain would have possession of any unclaimed territories to the west of the line and Portugal would have possession of any unclaimed territory to the east of the line.

After further exploration, the Portuguese grew dissatisfied with the agreement when they realized how much more land Spain had been given. In June of 1494 the line was renegotiated and the agreement was officially ratified during a meeting in the Spanish town of Tordesillas. The Treaty of Tordesillas re-established the line 370 leagues (1,770 km) west of the Cape Verde Islands.

It was evident that little exploration had taken place at the time the treaty was signed because Spain was granted a much larger portion of land. Portugal was only given possession of Brazil. Portugal pushed the border of Brazil westward, over the next several hundred years. Because the line was not very well defined, the Spanish did not put up any opposition to this Portuguese expansion. The Protestant countries did not, of course, agree to this treaty.

In 1498 the Portuguese Vasco Da Gama discovered the route to India around Cape of Good Hope. He reached Calicut on the west coast of what is now India, from where he returned to his homeland with a small cargo. A second expedition followed in 1502-03. In 1524 Da Gama became the first viceroy in India. His fellow countryman Alfonso de Albuquerque reached the peninsula of Malacca.

Despite their efforts to avoid conflicts by means of the treaty of 1494, the Spanish and the Portuguese fell into new conflicts, because they did not take into account that the world was round. In 1519 the Portuguese Fernao de Magelhaes sailed with 5 ships under Spanish flag in western direction to find a new route to the Indies. On the 21st of October he sailed with three ships through the strait which is named after him. In three months he crossed the Pacific, tormented by lack of food and water. In the spring of 1521 they reached the archipelago which became later known as the Philippines, named after Philips II. Magelhaes was murdered there.

Soon the Spanish also went on an expedition in eastern direction to reach the Philippines via the Cape of Good Hope. In the course of the 16th century the Spaniards from the Philippines and the Portuguese from the Moluccas went further and further northward. The Isle of Tai-oan (Taiwan) was discovered, which the Spaniards called Hermosa and the Portuguese Formosa. For the time being neither the Spanish nor the Portuguese succeeded in establishing a permanent settlement over there.

In 1542 by coincidence a Portuguese ship ended up in Japanese waters. The Portuguese obtained a permit from the Japanese government to establish a trade post on the island of Hirado . For almost a century the Portuguese traded from this enclave with the Japanese. Because they also developed missionary activities and tried to preach Christianity in Japan, they were exiled to the island of Deshima in 1636 and in 1638 completely deported. Since maps in general were considered to be a state secret in Spain and in Portugal, only very few of them survived. The Portuguese and Spanish made mainly portolans (maps showing only coastlines and harbors), which were unique and only found in manuscripts. The few of them which survived are found mainly outside of Spain and Portugal. They fall beyond the scope of this article.

Dutch cartography

In spite of the turmoil caused by the harsh measures of Philips II of Spain, the Dutch thrived and first Antwerp and later Amsterdam became the centers of the arts and of the cartographers.

The first eminent cartographer was Gerard Mercator (1512-1594), who studied in Leuven (Louvain) under Gemma Frisius, Dutch astronomer and mathematician, and moved later to Duisburg in the Rhineland as a religious fugitive, where he carried out his major work. He was already regarded during his own lifetime as the "Ptolemy of his time" Mercator regarded himself more as an academic cosmographer rather than someone who had to earn his living from making and selling of maps. His production was not very large. He left behind a pair of globes, five wall maps and an unfinished cosmography.

He was born in Rupelmonde in Flanders, south west of Antwerp, in 1512. He was educated by the "broeders des Gemenen Levens" in 's-Hertogenbosch, after which he studied at the University of Leuven where he studied under Gemma Frisius.. He had trained himself in the meantime in the art of engraving. Mercator was the first to employ italic script on maps. This embellished the map to such an extent that it remained customary untill the 19th century to place names on maps in italics.

mercator worldmap.jpgNext is the worldmap of Mercator shown, this is a wall map and very big. Mercator's work doesn't depict Korea at all.

This is a detail from the same mapMercator Worldmap detail.gif (897796 bytes)

His son Rumold inherited the copper plates of his father's atlas and published an appendix of 34 maps to the atlas his father made, a year after his father's death. In order to be able to complete the work quickly, he added his own map of the world of 1587 and had three maps of the continents from his father's great map of the world of 1569 copied by his two nephews Gerard Mercator Junior and Michel Mercator.

mercator-asi3.jpg (45204 bytes)(Mercator, Asia from the Atlas part III Duisburg, 1595 Gerard Mercator junior)

Commercial map makers followed Mercator's example and the production of maps expanded from a subsidiary into the basic economic activity for a large group of people. The period from around 1550 to the end of the 17th century is called the Dutch age of cartography and a map made in Amsterdam guaranteed good quality. Since maps initially were made of loose sheets, the need for larger maps could only be fulfilled by making a number of sections which were printed separately, after which the maps were glued together. Decorative as they became, they were hanged on the wall and most of them did not survive due to exposure to sunlight, humidity, smoke, soot etc. Some excellent examples can be found in the Vermeer paintings. Some collectors however kept their wall maps as loose sheets or bound them into a cover. A collection of loose folio maps, bound together for convenience formed the prototype of an atlas. The atlas of Abraham Ortelius, the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum of 1570 is regarded as the first atlas.

Abraham Ortelius (1527 - 1598) began his career as an "afsetter van caerten" (illuminator of maps). He later also ran a business in curiosities and Netherlands and foreign objets d'art. The goods he sold included maps, which he imported mainly from Italy - the center of cartography in the mid -16th century. He knew Mercator personally and this may have encouraged him not only to sell Italian maps, but also to sell more original work. So he was active from around 1560 in producing his own maps. The idea from producing an atlas, came most likely from a commercial and practical idea. AbrahamOrteliusAntwerpen1570.jpg (485041 bytes)One of his customers, the merchant Gilles Hooftman, wanted all the maps he could get. But the big maps, enrolled in cylindrical cases, were unhandy. Hence the idea of producing an atlas, in which the maps were shown in a handy format. This is one of his maps from this atlas.

OrteliusIndiaeOrientalis.jpgThe next map shows Ortelius Indiae Orientalis from the Theatrum, Antwerp, 1570. Japan has the typical kite shape introduced by Mercator. Mermaids, sea monsters and shipwrecks are shown. Portuguese coat of arms shown to emphasize that this is "their" part of the world.

It took a long time before the region was "decently" mapped, both in position and in shape. Since the middle-ages Japan was depicted as Chipangu or Zipangu. The Portuguese reached Japan in 1542. Till in 1641 all foreigners, except the Dutch, had to leave the country, missionaries offered the most cartographic information about the country. The data from the Jesuits was accordingly revised by the official Portuguese cartographers, like Fernao Vaz Dourado (1520 - c. 1580). We find this shape on several maps thereafter. He gave Japan the shape of the back of a tortoise, like it was depicted already in the second half of the sixteenth century. The changes went so fast that in the same period several anachronisms coexisted. On the small world maps and the maps of Asia the 16th century shape is still to be seen, while in Jan Huygen van Linschoten's Itinerary of 1595 the traditional shape of Vaz Dourado shows. We will call this round shape, used by van Linschoten, the Vaz Dourado  type, since the rest of the map is similar to Vaz Dourado's. To recognize this map one has to realize that the east is up on this map. Fernao Vaz Dourado is called "one of the foremost of all cartographers." Six of his manuscript atlases survived, dated from 1568 to 1580. He worked mostly in Goa, India. Born around 1520 probably in India, he died probably in or shortly after 1580. During 1568-71 he made maps of the Indies including a World Map and from 1568-80 he published a Sea Atlas. This map comes from the Atlas of the Indies, (1568) by Vaz Dourado



vanLangeren1596.jpg (513708 bytes)The map to the right is from Hendrick Florent van Langren. It's an east-oriented map of East Asia. Amsterdam 1596. This map comes from the Itinerario.