Here at The Christina Gallery we carry a vast collection of antique maps dating back to the late 16th century and nautical charts from the 19th century. Map making has always been an important part of the history of modern society. A map conveys much more than geographic information. From antique maps we are able to rediscover the world of our ancestors and understand the interactions between different cultures, countries and empires based on the images they produced and their depictions of foreign lands.
The earliest known maps date back to the Babylonians in 3500 BCE, but it wasn’t until the invention of the printing press in the middle of the 15th century that maps were mass produced and became popular with the general public. Scientific methods of measurement were introduced to cartography in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. Many of the maps on display at The Christina Gallery were printed from a metal plate then colored by hand.
Novi Belgii (1671) provides an interesting window into the political environment of the 17th century. This striking map portrays the English-dominated regions of New England and includes every settlement and river along the coastline. The cartographer, Arnoldus Montanus (1625 – 1683), was a prominent Dutch minister, teacher, author, and publisher in the seventeenth century. His rendition of the New England topography has been accepted as the standard by which the Dutch understanding of the New World can be assessed, despite the fact that Montanus himself never actually visited New England. It was considered common practice for cartographers to use each other’s work as source material when creating new maps. His portrayal of New England was based on the influential mid-17th century Jansson-Visscher series of the same subject (Jansson and Visscher were also Dutch cartographers).
This particular map is remarkable because of its elaborate cartouche adorning the bottom right of the plate. Montanus has carved seven figures into the copper plate from which his map was printed, along with numerous flora and fauna. The figures shown in the title cartouche are performing several different occupations undertaken by the settlers and the natives such as hunting and trading. The interior of the map is elaborately engraved with miniature trees, rivers and indigenous animals throughout the entire image.
At the time of this map’s creation the British and Dutch governments were struggling over the ownership of land in North America. Montanus clearly declares the terrain as “Novi Belgii,” or “New Netherland” in his depiction of the newly acquired land. This bold claim provides interesting insight into the political landscape of the time. Dutch mapmakers were known for their highly-skilled work and engraving capabilities. English mapmakers were unable to compete in this department leaving Dutch cartographers to dominate the map market, and thus attempt to mark their territory through text. This allowed the Dutch government to use maps such as Montanus’ Novi Belgii as powerful propaganda tool in asserting their ownership of “New Netherland.” Montanus’ map has left us a record of the expanding reach of European powers upon the New World.
Visit us at The Christina Gallery in Edgartown, MA to see our full collection of antique maps and nautical charts or view part of our collection online here.