Africa Divided According to the Extent of Its Principall Parts in Which Are Distinguished One from the Other the Empires, Monarchies, Kingdoms, States, and Peoples…
William Berry’s rare and gorgeous map of the African continent with original 17th-century hand-written annotations in the margin.
English mapmaker William Berry, active between 1670 and 1703, created this rare and exquisitely detailed map of the African continent. Not many English mapmakers reached an international level of distinction in the 17th century due to the strength of the Dutch and French schools of cartography. Berry was nevertheless an exception. Among his most notable accomplishments as a cartographer was the correction and amendment of Nicolas Sanson’s charts, frequently referred to as the ‘English Sanson Collection.’ Concerning both accuracy and beauty, these revised maps competed directly with the great mapmakers of Holland and France.
Consequently, Berry’s maps were, and continue to be, highly sought after by English-speaking collectors. Moreover, Berry did not issue complete atlases but rather included his sheets in untitled collections. Few examples have survived, and his maps are exceedingly rare on the open market. This incredible chart of Africa is perhaps one of the best examples of his work available at the moment, in part because of its beauty and accuracy, but perhaps even more because it is one of the Berry maps that draws directly on the work of Sanson and other French cartographers. However, as we shall see, it is not only French maps that have informed this magnificent chart; it builds on a long and prominent history of cartographic expression.
For this chart of the African continent, Berry was directly inspired by Alexis-Hubert Jaillot’s map from 1674. Jaillot had, in turn, drawn most of the features and characteristics on his map from the more original 1668 work of the great French mapmaker Nicolas Sanson (Sanson’s second map of Africa). While these were the primary sources Berry applied, late 17th-century mapmakers such as Berry also owed dues to their Dutch predecessors, especially Willem Blaeu’s seminal 1630 chart of Africa. These mapmakers were extremely important for developing a more accurate and scientific view of the world, which is also why they continue to draw significant interest from modern collectors. The critical issue to recognize in Berry’s map is the dramatic transformation of geographic perspective – and consequently of cartographic output – which characterized the 17th century. While the great voyages of exploration are typically associated with the 16th century, the 17th century was the age in which all these discoveries were systematically mapped. That this was a period of immense geographic uncertainty is nevertheless clear from features such as its two islands of St Helena in the South Atlantic – a common error on maps of the era.
Even though this particular chart, and the immediate predecessors it drew upon, constitute a giant leap forward from the Ptolemaic tradition in terms of detail and accuracy, maps of its era still contain many remnants of the Ptolemaic tradition embedded within them. The best example of this is the continued insistence on two enormous South African lakes as the source for the Nile River. In the 15th and early 16th-century tradition, these lakes are typically fed by the mythical Mountains of the Moon, which have now disappeared, but the basic model remains that of Ptolemy. Juxtapose this depiction with the insertion of an abundance of topographic and toponymic detail throughout the African continent. It becomes clear that the cartography of Africa had developed dramatically from the schematic representations of Ptolemaic atlases or the coastal charts made by early explorers. The palpable enhancements include the insertion of multiple rivers south of the great Ptolemaic lakes. These run from the interior and into the Indian Ocean, including the Zambezi, the Zambere, and the Rio de Spiritu Santo.
The entire continent is subdivided into regions and kingdoms as they were understood at the time. Once again, it is striking to note how comprehensive European knowledge of Africa had become in the previous hundred years, but it is also clear that much of the knowledge of the interior continued to be based on either myths and rumors or expeditions up the great rivers. In fact, it seems that the original owner of this map may have conducted precisely such an African sojourn, but to this we shall return. Among the features that make this particular map stand out from other late 17th century charts of Africa is the depiction of an extensive stretch of Brazil along the left fringe of the map. Including this regio was a conscious decision on Berry’s part and demonstrated his willingness to revise and improve on the French master. While Jaillot did something similar, Sanson only delineated a sliver of the Brazilian coast on his map. The inclusion of Brazil on a chart of Africa harkens back to the earlier part of the century when mapping continents continued to establish a proper relationship between the landmasses (often for navigation purposes). At this stage, however, a more systematic approach to geography usually saw the continents figure independently on single sheets, such as in Sanson’s map or Frederik De Wit’s iconic chart from 1680.
The large cartouche in the upper left of the map corner has five scales, in contrast to Jaillot’s preceding map, which has six scale bars in the cartouche. In the upper right corner of the sheet, we find a decorative title cartouche, primarily copied from Sanson and Jaillot and elegantly composed of a string of human figures, flowering cornucopias, and beasts such as an elephant, a crocodile, a lion, and an ostrich or swan. Being a loyal Englishman, Berry changed both the coat of arms crowning the cartouche (to that of the Royal Arms), just as he rewrote the text within the cartouche, dedicating his map to the illustrious King Charles II.
A final note should be made on a set of manuscript notes adorning the map’s left margin and dated 1696, less than two decades after its initial publication. Interestingly, the annotations refer to the itinerary of a contemporary traveler – possibly the original owner of the map. While the text is not entirely legible, the essence of the annotations can nevertheless be distilled. Our traveler remains unidentified, but his journey took him from the islands of St Jago and Fogo in Cabo Verde via St Helena to the African mainland, where he visited, and possibly even sailed up, the Zaire River (today the Congo). Like the other great African rivers mentioned in this description, the Congo is clearly visible on Berry’s map. After passing the Cape of Good Hope, our traveler continued east with stops in Gujarat (Surat), Bombay, and on the coastal island of Elephanta. On the return journey, it would seem he stopped in the Portuguese Kingdom of Goa and sailed on both the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea, although the exact locations he visited cannot be determined from the handwritten commentary. The annotations bring to life just how mind-blowing it must have been to live in the constantly expanding world of the 17th century.
Two sheets joined, as issued. Light soiling with paper watermarked "W" and a short repair in bottom right corner that has been professionally repaired. There is an old manuscript notation in left blank margin, and the margins have been professionally extended to accommodate framing.
Betz #124; Norwich #47; Shirley (BL Atlases) T.BERR-1a #35.