Dieppe Maps

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The Dieppe maps are a series of world maps produced in Dieppe, France, in the 1540s, 1550s and 1560s. They are large hand-produced maps, commissioned for wealthy and royal patrons, including Henry II of France and Henry VIII of England. The Dieppe school of cartographers included Pierre Desceliers, Johne Rotz, Guillaume Le Testu and Nicholas Desliens.

Because many of the inscriptions on the Dieppe maps are written in French, Portuguese or Gallicised Portuguese, modern historians generally accept that the Dieppe school of mapmakers were often working from Portuguese sources that no longer exist. There seems to be convincing evidence that Portuguese cartographers were bribed for information of the latest discoveries, despite the official Portuguese Politica de sigilo (policy of silence). An example of this is the Cantino map of 1502 (not a Dieppe school map) which clearly shows evidence of second hand Portuguese sources.

A common feature of most of the Dieppe world maps (see Vallard 1547, Desceliers 1550) are the compass roses and navigational rhumb lines, suggestive of a sea-chart. However, they are best understood as works of art, clearly intended to be spread out on a table, and containing information on the latest discoveries, side by side with mythological references and illustrations. For example, the Desceliers 1550 map carries descriptions of early French attempts to colonise Canada, the conquests of Peru by the Spanish and the Portuguese sea-trade among the Spice Islands. On the same map can be found descriptions of legendary Cathay, king Prester John in Ethiopia, and the race of Amazons in Russia. Other Dieppe maps also carry fictitious features such as the Marco Polo inspired Zanzibar/Îles des Geanz. (see Vallard 1547, Rotz 1542 and Dauphin c1536-42). As with other maps made before the seventeenth century, the Dieppe maps show no knowledge of longitude. While latitude could be marked in degrees as observed by astrolabe or quadrant, easting could only be given in distance. Mercator’s projection first appeared in 1568-9, a development too late to influence the Dieppe cartographers .

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