1. De Jode’s map of Scandinavia is one of the most sophisticated Renaissance maps of Northern Europe.
2. The example offered here is clean and bright, with dazzling color.
3. While we think of Europe as largely mapped by the 16th century, Scandinavia remained a kind of frontier, as seen by both the map’s cartographic errors and its emphasis on the maritime sphere. The combination makes it a fascinating collector’s item.
Rare and appealing, this is Gerard de Jode’s illustrious map of Scandinavia. Not only does it come from the hand of one the 16th century’s most competent and interesting cartographers, but it constitutes an impressively accurate documentation of Scandinavia in the 16th century. The map was part of Gerard and Cornelis de Jode’s seminal atlas Speculum Orbis Terrae, which was published by Cornelis in 1593. Like its original predecessor published by Gerard de Jode in 1578, Speculum Orbis Terrae was issued in competition with Abraham Ortelius’ hugely popular Theatrum Orbis Terrarum.
Despite the fact that they were in many ways technically more sophisticated and often also more accurate, De Jode’s atlases never attained the popularity that Ortelius enjoyed and simply could not compete. The direct consequence of this lack of success was that the De Jode printing business went bankrupt. Over time, this has also meant that very few copies of the De Jode atlases have survived, making the maps from these volumes both rare and desirable among collectors and institutions.
Europe’s Northern Frontier
By the 16th century, all of Europe was of course well documented and mapped, but if there was any territory within Europe that one could still perceive as a type of frontier, it would have been the isolated northern fringes of Scandinavia. In many places these areas were only approachable by ship, and rarely worth visiting for those who did not have either family roots or direct mercantile interests in the region. Naturally, the royal courts that reigned over the land were also the ones with the most sophisticated understanding of it, and often the rest of Europe had to rely on the information provided by local sources. But this did not always happen readily or without misinformation, and for the careful observer such tendencies may be elucidated by this map.
To exemplify the extent to which knowledge of Scandinavian regions was relative in the 16th century, we may recall how Sweden, from the time it won independence from Denmark in 1523 until the mid 19th century, kept demographic data as tightly guarded state secrets. In particular, the militant Swedish kings of the 17th century did not want anyone knowing exactly how many men could be conscripted from their endless northern woodlands. This fluidity in the geographic and demographic information on Scandinavia is clearly present in De Jode’s map as well.
An example of the tentative nature of Scandinavian cartography can bee seen in the rendition of Norway’s two great southern fjords; today known as Hardanger Fjord and Sognefjorden. In De Jode’s map, these two large and important inlets, which at the time were sailed upon by ships from most of Europe, have been amalgamated into one gigantic interior fjord. Similarly, the large island of Lofoten, which was home to a considerable fishing community, has been depicted far too south. These phenomena are interesting both because they reveal just how poorly understood even the well-sailed coast of Norway was at this time, but perhaps more poignantly, because they show the creativity that cartographers often had apply in the compilation process – a geographical imagination of sorts.
Other elements also make this map very much a reflection of the time in which it was produced. In the Gulf of Finland, for example, St Petersburg is nowhere to be found, since the map was issued some 18 years prior to the construction of the Swedish fortification Nyenschantz in 1611. Less than a century later, in 1703, Tsar Peter the Great chose this exact site as the location for his imperial city, but this was is still far off in the future at this point.
Nevertheless, there are also many elements of this map that are impressively accurate. An incredibly high density of towns, cities, and waterways are accurately named and positioned on the map. This is especially the case in regard to coastal settlements, which in much of 16th century Scandinavia constituted the only real contact points to the outside world. The towns of Denmark, in particular, have been included in much greater detail than Ortelius managed on his Scandinavia chart. If one wishes to identify a Danish town other than the largest and most populous on an Ortelian map, it is necessary to consult some of the more focused Denmark maps included in his atlas (e.g. Daniae Regni Typus).
A dramatically rendered mountain range doubles as the dividing feature between the woodlands of Sweden and the precipitous fjords of Norway. Throughout Scandinavia we find a deliberate focus on the internal waterways as well, revealing how even the interior had a distinct maritime outlook on the world.
The North Sea littoral is also well represented. In the west, we find the Orkneys, Shetlands, and Faroe Islands depicted, as well as the west coast of Iceland. The easternmost parts of the British Isles have also been included on the map. And in the south, we find the northern coast of Germany and Holland, including the many islands of the Frisian Sea. In all these cases, settlements and insular toponyms are accurately and ubiquitously noted.
The wonder of the maritime sphere
In addition to the map’s relative accuracy, De Jode’s atlas charts are also renowned for their exquisite beauty. The rich engravings were the product of two Dutch brothers, Joannes and Lucas van Deutecum, who were perhaps the most sought after and appreciated cartographic engravers of the period. Consequently, we find the cartographic details interspersed with aesthetic embellishments like ships, fishing boats, and frightening sea monsters. There are nine large ocean-faring vessels on the map: six in the North Sea, two in the Baltic Sea, and a large triple-master in the small section of the Barents Sea visible in the upper right corner. The latter seems to be discharging its canons, as there are plumes of smoke emanating from the ship. A similar feature characterizes one of the vessels in the North Sea.
The North Sea cluster also contains two smaller sailing boats, presumably fishing vessels from Norway, as well as two large open rowboats engaged in pulling nets from the sea. Even though these are the smallest vessels depicted, and clearly not intended to travel great distances from the coast, a careful inspection reveals that they in fact do have masts, but that these have been lowered to avoid drift while fishing. This type of small and highly maneuverable Norwegian fishing craft, commonly known as Nordlanders, was used throughout coastal Scandinavia from the early Middle Ages until the introduction of motorized boats. It is quite possible that the two smaller sailing boats represent similar vessels, which are still underway and therefore have their sails raised.
Another interesting feature of the ships depicted is that all of the ones in open waters (i.e. the North and Barents Sea) have a smaller vessel in tow, whereas those in the Baltic do not. Presumably, these were for approaching difficult coastlines, but it may quite possibly also be a (perhaps unwitting) depiction of the rapidly increasing number of whaling ships in this period, which required smaller versatile craft to chase the great beasts. The Baltic vessels, on the other hand, are more likely to be traders sailing on the many official trade harbors on these shores.
Also in the North Sea, off the coast of Jutland, we find a beautiful 32-point compass rose, which establishes cardinal directions but seemingly does little in regard to navigation. It is nevertheless important to note its position on the map in combination with the number of points in the rose, as this does establish sighting lines that connect Denmark, Norway, and England to the four important island groups included on the map. The Orkneys, depicted in dramatic reds, yellows, and greens on our map, as well as the Shetlands and Faroe Islands were important stopping points for ships traversing the North Sea. There was some trade in local goods to be had – dried fish, whale oil, and wool in particular – but just as crucially one could resupply the ship’s fresh water. The islands groups have indeed been quite well rendered for the age. Most of the individual islands have been labeled and settlements have been depicted.
The three sea monsters that have been included seem to be amalgamations of the bestiary of creatures and maritime monsters that figure prominently on many maps of the 16th century. One of the pioneers in this regard was Olaus Magnus, who in his 1539 Carta Marina includes a dramatic visualization of the many dangers that mariners face at sea. While some monsters clearly have roots in established mythologies, others are undoubtedly the result of reports from whalers who had survived counterattacks on their vessels by the very creatures they were hunting. The three monsters on this map all appear quite fierce and threatening, though it is not clear whether they are actually attacking any of the depicted vessels.
The scene involving the uppermost sea monster is perhaps that which comes closest to resembling an actual attack. Writhing ferociously in the water, we are confronted with a large open mouth and an almost bear-like snout. Behind it, a long tail equipped with four flukes is raised in a threatening manner, as if poised to strike. Further down, just south of the Shetlands, another strange monster rears its head from the water. The brushy brows and quadripartite beak gives this animal an almost bird-like appearance. The final monster is perhaps also the most astounding. Located just west of the Faroe Islands, this beast has winged cheeks and barbs, large eyes and nose, and almost antenna-like extensions on top of its head, from which water sprouts. This last feature was common in many sea monsters of the era and is certainly an exaggerated version of a whale’s blowhole. Like his northern counterpart, this monster also has a four-lobed tail fin.
The entire map is framed by a graticule that indicates lateral and longitudinal degrees and in the lower right corner we find a neat and ornate cartouche inscribed: “Septentrionaliu regionum Svetiæ Gothiæ Norvegiæ Daniæ et terrarum adiacetium recens exacta que descriptio per Liuinum algoet Auctorem Gerardus de Jode excudebat” (The northernmost Swedish, Gothic, Norwegian, Danish regions, and the adjacent lands recently described, compiled, and printed by Gerard de Jode).
Crowning the cartouche we find the year it was produced (1570) and below the main text we find a secondary inscription that reads: “Ioannes á Duetecu Lucas á Duetecu fecerunt” (Made by Joannes and Lucas van Deutecum).
Context is everything
Getting the van Deutecum brothers to work on his atlas was a huge achievement in itself and would perhaps have secured both the atlas’ success and the survival of the De Jode family business, had they not competed so directly against another prestigious Antwerp-based map-maker, Abraham Ortelius. Not only did Ortelius manage to publish his atlas before Gerard De Jode, but he was also an extremely well-connected and shrewd business man. This is may well have given him the power to block or delay the formal issuance of a privilege for De Jode’s atlas by almost a decade. By then it was too late for his original work to seriously compete with that of Ortelius and so De Jode’s 1578 atlas became a commercial failure.
Not giving up so easily, Gerard began working on an updated and elaborated edition of his atlas, but died a few years before it was ready. His son Cornelis – who is likely to have been assisting his father for years at this point – took over and finished the monumental task. The revised version of his father’s atlas, now termed Speculum Orbis Terrae, was issued in 1593. Sadly, this also did not have much success on the market, despite being of the same superb cartographic quality as Gerard’s original atlas and including a number of new and impressive charts compiled by Cornelis specifically for this edition, including one of the Arabian Peninsula and the African continent.
Despite being issued posthumously, the map is still attributed to Gerard de Jode in the cartouche in the lower right of the map, just as it retains its original 1570 date. In many of the maps originally compiled by his father, Cornelis had made amendments and updates to the original plates, making distinction between the states easy. In the Scandinavia map, however, no changes were made to Gerard’s original plate, making distinction between states a question of the text on the verso. Our sheet confirms this. While it undoubtedly comes from the 1593 edition, Speculum Orbis Terrae, there are no visual distinctions whatsoever between the two editions of the map (we compared our edition to the 1578 edition held in the Danish Royal Library).
Both of the De Jode atlases were produced during a pivotal time in the history of cartography, and despite being commercial failures, the maps were some of the instrumental visualizations that helped the art of cartography shift away from a schematic world view anchored in Ptolemy and into a proto-Renaissance view of the world, where observation, verifiable data, and critical thought became the most influential components in compiling a new map. There were many drivers for this transition. Early scientific inquiries conducted from great courts across the globe combined with the voyages of exploration created a context in which both our inner and outer worlds expanded at an explosive rate. The discovery of the Americas and the return of European sailors to the Indian Ocean also facilitated this shift, in that these large open waters required a much more careful consideration of elements like magnetic declination.
The great 16th century atlases and charts produced by Flemish, Dutch, and Italian cartographers in particular, were instrumental in changing how we perceived and rendered a world that during this time was in almost constant flux. It must have seemed as if the world not only was growing on a daily basis, but that it was changing its very nature and structure. What was common knowledge one day was relegated to myth the next, and for a mapmaker it must have seemed a daunting task to constantly new seek and acquire data and then adapt one’s geographic vision and understanding accordingly.
In many ways, cartography had been a somewhat stagnant discipline for centuries, the main innovations occurring within the sphere of portolan production. But from the early 16th century, a new era began to take shape. Critical revisions and new observations from crossing the Atlantic created an atmosphere of experimentation and adaptation, in which some of the most spectacular and decisive maps in history were created. At the close of the century, it was not just the discipline that had changed, but indeed the understanding behind the discipline which had transformed fundamentally. The root causes of these changes should of course be sought in the courage and determination of the great explorers, but it was the cartographers of the day who gave the new perceptions visual form and thus gradually integrated them into a broader understanding of how the world worked.