Nicolas Sanson World 1651


Nicolas Sanson. “Mappe-Monde, ou Carte Generale Du Monde.” Paris: N. Sanson, 1651. 14 x 21. Engraving. Original hand color. Some light old creases. Very good condition.

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A map of the world by one of the great cartographers of the seventeenth century, Nicolas Sansan, ‘the father of French cartography.’ Modern cartography is usually thought of beginning with a period dominated by the Dutch school, with such notables as Ortelius, Mercator, Blaeu, and Hondius. This age was followed by a period of dominance by the French school of cartography, the beginning date of which is usually given as 1650, when Nicolas Sanson began publishing his important maps. With Sanson’s maps, the age of scientific cartography began to unfold. Sanson was concerned to produce accurate maps based as much as possible on first-hand information, and not showing either purely speculative nor simply decorative features.

Sanson’s map focuses on the geographic information, the space around the double hemispheres left intentionally blank. The outline of the continents and the illustrations of interior information is very accurate for the day. In particular, Sanson’s was the most advanced depiction of the Great Lakes of the period.  However, Sanson was not immune to the cartographic myths of his day. The map shows a strange outline of a great southern continent, as well as several reflections of early knowledge of Australia, an interesting combination of old, mistaken beliefs and data from early explorations in the southern seas. Sanson also shows a large, mythical land of Jesso, El Dorado’s Lake Parima in South America, and most interestingly, California depicted as an island. In Sanson’s world map, made at a time when cartographers were first developing a scientific picture of the world, we can see the overlap of the old and new world views by the dominant mapmaker of his day.