Nicholas de Fer

Nicolas De Fer (1646–1720) was a French cartographer and geographer, who also worked as an engraver and publisher. He was renowned for his massive output and his pleasant visual designs. He was the son of Parisian cartographer and began apprenticing at an early age. By twelve, however, he shifted his apprenticeship to the closely associated field of engraving – a move his father no doubt condoned, as it might enhance his competitive position on the market with son as a trained engraver. De Fer’s father died in 1673, but Nicolas did not take over the company until 1687, at which point it had been virtually run it into the ground. Nicolas nevertheless had a knack for business and soon turned things around. By 1690, he was so successful that he won employment as the official geographer to Louis, Le Grand Dauphin of France and son of the reigning French king, Louis XIV. Soon after, and with support from the Spanish and French courts, De Fer was also appointed the official geographer for King Louis XIV. In 1720, shortly before his death, he was even given the honor of being appointed royal geographer to Philip V, king of Spain.

De Fer’s popularity in the Bourbon royal circles was largely due to his appreciation of the propagandistic effects of strategic cartography. But no doubt his keen sense of aesthetics helped as well. Whatever the case, his maps were hugely popular, well funded, and widely distributed. He was impressively productive, publishing more than 600 sheets from his atelier, and covering everything from town plans to world maps. Many of his maps rode the political conjunctures of the age. Hardly would a territory have been won or surrendered before De Fer’s atelier was working on a map delineating the new realities.

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