Carta prima generale d’America dell’India Occidentale e Mare del Zur


The earliest published sea chart to focus on the California coast!

Cartographer(s): Sir Robert Dudley
Date: 1648
Place: Florence
Dimensions: 71 x 52 cm (28 x 20.5 in)
Condition Rating: VG

In stock


Magnificent sea chart with a rare geographical scope extending from Central America to northwestern South America and including both a detailed depiction of the West Indies and South Florida, as well as an inset of the coast of California. The chart offers a wealth of coastline information, including place names, shoals, currents, and winds. This especially true in the West Indies around Cuba and off the Florida coast.

The large inset is an important map in of itself, tracing the coastline of California. The map is curious for its mixture of Spanish and Portuguese place names and for the appearance of an enormous and fictitious bay labeled, Golfo Profondo, together with a note: “This gulf has recently been reported as very large but has not been well explored.” At the north end of the gulf is Capo Engaño, the Cape of Disappointment, so named because it was at this latitude that Spanish explorers expected to find the north end of the Island of California.

The chart discusses divergent opinions on the correct latitude of Cape Mendocino, which it plots at about 43º N latitude, but includes a note stating: “Some believe Cape Mendocino is at 41º N Latitude.” The actual latitude of the cape is just above 40º N.

The chart is ambiguous as to the insularity of California. While a right angle and jutting eastward line immediately above Cape Mendocino suggests a Briggs-model Island of California, Leighly points out that Dudley’s map follows the nomenclature of the Daniell map, which is thought to have been based on the official map of Vizcaino’s voyage that did not posit an island.

Among the important coastal cities and bays indicated on the map are P. dell nuovo Albion scoperro dal Drago C. Inglese (Point New Albion discovered by the English Captain Drake), P. di Moneerei (Monterey Bay; plotted just below 37º N latitude), the Channel Islands off Santa Barbara, and P. di S. Diego (San Diego; plotted just below 35º N latitude.

A large Quivira — the legendary city said to possess enormous wealth — which by this time had captured the imaginations of Europeans for over a century, and would persist on maps for the rest of the 17th century, is placed inland.

The title of the chart is found in a simple, elegant cartouche in the interior of Peru. The compass rose is equally lovely.


Sir Robert Dudley

Sir Robert Dudley’s Dell’Arcano del Mare is the earliest printed sea atlas to cover the entire world, the first made by an Englishman, and the first to use the Mercator projection. It was first published in Italian at Florence in 1645, then again in 1646 in a three volume folio. It is remarkable for its inclusion of a proposal for the construction of a navy which Dudley designed and described. It was reprinted in Florence in a two volume folio in 1661 without the charts of the first edition.

Dudley’s father, the Earl of Leicester, was a financial backer of Sir Francis Drake’s circumnavigation of 1577-81. As such, it has been suggested that Dudley had access to information only available to Queen Elizabeth and her inner circle, although whether this special access is reflected on Dudley’s charts is unclear. Dudley consulted the journals of his brother-in-law was the famous Thomas Cavendish, the third person to circumnavigate the globe after Magellan and Drake.

The distinctive Baroque style of Dudley’s charts is attributable to the elegant engraving of Antonio Francesco Lucini. The six-volume work covered navigation, shipbuilding and astronomy, with 130 maps in two volumes. Unlike the vast majority of his contemporaries, Dudley’s maps are all his own and were not copied from other mapmakers. They have an instantly recognizable style: closer to the pre-17th century manuscript portolan charts than the richly decorated maps of Mercator, Hondius and Blaeu.

Later map-makers chose not to copy Dudley’s style and so it remains unique in the annals of cartography. The engraving by Antonio Francesco Lucini, who stated that he spent 12 years and used 5,000 pounds of copper to produce the plates, is of exceptional quality, as is the calligraphy.

Today parts of Dell’Arcano del Mare are on display at the Museo Galileo in Florence.

Condition Description

Trimmed margins and some centerfold discoloration; fine, crisp engraving. Expert repairs.


Wagner 350; cf. Leighly pp. 36-7. Wendt, plate 10.