Americae pars magis cognita. [First State]
De Bry’s seminal map of South America: a manifestation of the courage, determination, and megalomania of those who went forth to explore an unknown world.
One of the earliest and most attractive folio maps of South America on the market.
Produced during the paradigm-setting late 16th century, this stunning chart was issued in the third book of Theodor de Bry’s Grand Voyages, which included the accounts of Hans Staden (1548-55) and Jean de Léry’s (1557-58) travels among the Tupinambá people of northeastern Brazil. Despite the focus on South America, the map includes a significant portion of the North American continent, including all of Central America and a large swathe of what is today the southern United States. At the time, this scope made a lot of sense, for while Brazil may have fallen under the aegis of the Portuguese, De Bry was essentially showing the full extent of Spanish Dominion in the Americas.
Our example of this landmark map is the rare First State (without the addition of the plan of Mexico City, and other features), published in the original edition of the third book in 1592. The northern part of the map essentially constituted an expansion of De Bry’s map of Florida, which he had published the previous year and was based heavily on Jacques le Moyne de Morgue’s original.
De Bry’s sources continue to elicit debate and contention among scholars when it comes to the geography and toponymy of South America. De Bry was an expert at bringing narratives to life through his detailed illustrations. But to discern and visualize an entire continent’s geography in this manner was a greater challenge. De Bry would likely have turned to the printed maps available at the time. These included maps by Italian, Spanish, and Dutch cartographers like Ruscelli (1561), Gutierrez (1562), Forlani (1562), Gastaldi (1565), Ortelius (1570), and Peter Martyr d’Anghiera (1587).
When looking at continental geography from a modern perspective, one of the more obvious errors is the southwest coast, in what today is Chile. The prominent bulge or promontory extending into the Pacific is a feature that belongs to the earliest days of South American cartography.
While many consider the mapmakers of 16th century Italy a primary source for De Bry, even a superficial survey of their output will tell you that Italian cartographers were largely unconvinced of this configuration. On the other hand, the early Dutch schools appear to have accepted the bulge. The most prominent example of this is the First State of Ortelius’ map of the Americas (1570), which includes an even more significant bulge than that suggested by De Bry. Ortelius already removed this feature in the Second State of his map (1587), and thus De Bry may be considered the last mapmaker to include this particular concept on a printed map.
An extensive Amazon riverine system
The engraving of the map is exceptionally well executed, testifying to the De Bry Family’s multi-generational experience with the art. Among the cartographic features worth noting is the rather extensively rendered Amazon River emptying into a large northern delta. While De Bry draws on the schematic representations common in early maps of the Amazonian interior (e.g. Gutierrez 1562), it is also notable how he made an effort to render the complex riverine systems of South America in a more organic and naturalistic fashion. Another highlight of the map is the finely rendered Magellan Straits at the bottom. Here, one might note how De Bry did not find it pivotal to depict the complete outline of the continent, as much as it was essential to provide a faithful and detailed representation of the Portuguese navigator’s game-changing discovery from 1520.
In addition to the vivaciousness of the cartography itself, two gorgeous strap-work cartouches are located in both the bottom corners of the map. While the one on the left describes the map’s contents and notes on the maker in Latin, the right cartouche contains information on the measurements applied in its compilation. It is augmented by the inclusion of a mapmaker’s compass balancing atop the strap-work. In the upper corners of the map are the coats-of-arms of the royal houses of France and Spain, and between them, a putto carries a banner with the map’s title. Other remarkable details include two gorgeous 16-point compass roses in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, respectively, a monstrous whale off northeast Brazil and a large Caravel sailing on the Magellan Straits.
De Bry’s collection of Grand Voyages was an illustrated collection of accounts of the Americas, published in thirteen volumes between 1590 and 1634. The accounts and images compiled by De Bry were hugely popular, and new editions were issued well into the 17th century. While no other European writer had compiled such a comprehensive compendium of accounts, the incredibly vivid illustrations in De Bry Voyages fascinated and horrified the European gentry in equal measure.
In many ways, it was De Bry who shaped the first European ideas of the New World.
Perhaps expertly silked, all but indiscernible, fine.