Blaeu Guiana with El Dorado 1640


Willem Blaeu. “Guiana sive Amazonum Regio.” ¬†Amsterdam: W. Blaeu, ca. 1640. 14 3/4 x 19 1/4. Engraving. Original color. Full margins. Some light transferring and a few spots. Oxidation of old greens; expertly lined. Overall, very good condition. Latin text on verso.

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The legend of “El Dorado” was one of the most influential legends of the early days of exploration in the New World. The legend first appeared in the 1530s or 40s as a story of an Indian chief who was rich enough to cover himself with gold dust during certain ceremonies; this chief was the golden man, “El Hombre Dorado.” The legend had its source in the Colombian highlands, near present-day Bogota. When the Spanish conquistadors reached this region they found no such rich chief or kingdom. For myriad reasons, this legend didn’t die; rather it transformed itself and moved slowly across the continent. After an amazing series of horrific and unsuccessful searches for El Dorado, the legend finally solidified as a story about a rich city of El Dorado, called Manoa by the natives, located on a huge lake in the highlands of Guyana, south of the Orinoco River.

In 1595, Sir Walter Raleigh set sail to find El Dorado. At Trinidad, he captured Antonio de Berrio, who had spent much of his life in search of the legend. Berrio soon told Raleigh all he knew of the place, and gave Raleigh a map of the area. Raleigh later drew a manuscript map of Guyana and published a report on the region and his explorations; this was the first popularization of the legend of El Dorado. The first published map showing El Dorado, based on a map by Jodocus Hondius drawn from Raleigh’s and his captain’s reports, was issued in 1599, almost three quarters of a century after the legend’s first appearance.

This map was issued about forty years later, based on the earlier map and still showing the legend. This map shows a large horizontal “Parime Lacus” located between the Orinoco and Amazon Rivers and surrounded by mountains. On northwest corner of the lake is “Manoa, o el Dorado.” As one of the first widely circulated maps showing the region, this map had a huge impact in propagating this legend-on-the-map. The general depiction of El Dorado from this map lasted throughout the seventeenth century, with the city and lake taking on various sizes and placements. The city of Manoa disappeared by the end of the century, but the legendary Lake Parima did not vanish from maps until well into the nineteenth century. This is an excellent and early map of the fascinating legend of El Dorado.