Fragment of a manuscript nautical chart of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) of the West African coast by Joan Blaeu II. J. Blaeu was the main VOC mapmaker, responsible for producing charts used on the VOC ships during the Dutch Golden Age.
The map drawn on vellum shows an approximately 2000 km long section of the Atlantic coast of West Africa from the Nigeria-Cameroon border area with the Gulf of Guinea and the island of Bioko, along the coast of Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Congo to Luanda and Benguela in Angola. In the centre the equator, labelled Aequinoctial. With a grid of rhumb lines in red and green ink, typical for 17th and 18th century nautical charts, and which goes back to 16th century portolans. Indicated are the important seaports and coastal towns as well as the names of rivers and geographical features. On verso a profile portrait of a Dutch gentleman from the early 19th century in colour chalk, in the style of Wijnand Esser.
This fragment was originally the upper right part of the chart Tweede stuck wassende Graedkaert van de Kaap Verdische Eilanden tot de Kaap (Second part of increasing latitude chart from the Cape Verde islands to the Cape), showing the South Atlantic between South America and Africa with the coasts of Brazil and Africa. According to the Lyste van de Kaerten en Stuurmans-gereetschappen (List of charts and navigation instruments), introduced by Joan Blaeu in 1655, this chart is the middle one of a set of three in Mercator's projection. These charts were carried by all ships of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) on their voyage from Amsterdam to the Dutch port of Batavia, now Jakarta. According to G. Schilder and H. Kok, a total of 4 of these maps by Joan Blaeu and Joan Blaeu II have been preserved in state institutes and collections. We have created an overlay of our fragment with one of the survived complete examples of the chart by Joan Blaeu II, preserved at the University Library of Helsinki (Schilder 4.04, Joan Blaeu II, 1680-90):
The fragment is attributed to Joan Blaeu II, since the hand writing is identical to the surviving manuscript charts of J. Blaeu II. Furthermore, a comparable portrait on vellum with a fragment of a manuscript chart of the Red Sea on verso with the signature of Joan Blaeu II and dated to 1701 was auctioned in May 2020 at B. Kuyper, Haarlem.
The East Asian spice trade was dominated by the Portuguese in the 16th century. After the occupation of Portugal by the Spanish in 1580 and especially after the fall of Antwerp in 1585, the centre of the spice trade during that time, the Dutch looked for ways to profit from the spice trade themselves. Thus, in 1602, the Dutch East India Company, or VOC (Verenigde Oost Indische Compagnie), was founded. The VOC quickly built up a monopoly on international trade and was responsible for transporting millions of goods between Europe and Asia during the following 200 years.
The ships of the VOC usually set sail in December or January and reached Batavia (now Jakarta in Indonesia) in the summer. To prepare for the long and arduous voyage, the fleet met on the coast of Texel, where they took in fossilised, iron-rich water from wells that did not spoil as quickly as normal surface water. The Cape of Good Hope was the first stop on the voyage. Supplies and water were replenished and the sick unloaded. Some new sailors also went on board, as well as officials and travellers who wanted to reach the east. With a favourable wind, the ships sailed further east, with an additional stop in Galle (Sri Lanka), where the best cinnamon was available.
In 1619, 17 years after the VOC was founded, it acquired a privilege on land and sea charts from the Dutch Parliament. Thus, the permission of the VOC's board was explicitly required before publishing or copying geographical information and sailing instructions about the Company's territory. Newly acquired knowledge of the seas, straits or coastal courses was added to charts by the official VOC mapmaker and his assistants. Existing chart material was updated and corrected in Amsterdam.
For the free-thinking Dutch Reformist Willem Janszoon Blaeu, there was no possibility of becoming the official VOC's mapmaker due to the political-religious situation and the job was given to his former assistant Gerritsz. After Gerritsz died in 1632, the situation had changed and more tolerant policies towards non-Calvinists and a certain freedom of the press followed. Thus, W. J. Blaeu was appointed mapmaker of the VOC in 1633. The job was taken over after Blaeu's death in 1638 by his son Joan, and from 1674 by Joan II, who was responsible for VOC charts until 1705. For the Blaeu family, the appointment as VOC mapmakers was a lucrative business. The VOC paid 5 to 9 guilders per chart. On each ship, the skipper, the chief pilot and the junior pilot each received a complete set of 9 charts for the Amsterdam-Batavia route, while the third watch got a limited set of 5 charts. In total, each ship had at least 32 charts on vellum, which cost the VOC about 228 guilders to equip a ship with charts. The skipper had to hand in the charts on arrival at the port of destination, otherwise penalties had to be paid. The hand-drawn charts used on VOC ships were not replaced by printed charts until the middle of the 18th century.
Schilder and Kok estimate in their monumental work on VOC's manuscript charts, between 1602 and 1799 around 55,000 charts were produced by or for the Company during its existence. Of this large number, only 359 complete charts and fragments still exists. Thus, less than 1 percent of the charts have survived the times and are still preserved today.
The reason these nautical charts have such a high mortality rate, apart from the natural ravages of time, is the way they were used. They were not bound in an atlas or had a place of honour on a shipowner's wall. They were used by pilots to navigate along the route between Amsterdam and the Spice Islands in the Far East. The voyages were full of dangers, quite a few ships capsized or were attacked. The navigators of the VOC had the task of recording new dangers in logbooks and on charts and reporting them on their return. Outdated maps were destroyed or reused as book covers. Even after the dissolution of the VOC in 1799, many maps were destroyed. In 1810, the newly installed French government in the Netherlands ordered existing cartographic material from the colonial territories to be transferred to the Depot de la Marine in Paris. After the fall of Napoleon in 1815, the Netherlands demanded their return. Due to incomplete records, however, a large number of the rare vellum manuscript charts are still in the possession of French institutions today.
According to Schilder and Kok, only 8 of these VOC manuscript charts on vellum are in private collections. 10 maps have an unknown whereabouts, the remaining 359 known charts and chart fragments are distributed among state institutions and libraries of the following countries:
Great Britain: 39
Rest of Europe: 25
Private Collections: 8
Transcription of the port and coastal towns , the names of the rivers and geographical features:
Ambozes (today Ambazonia)
R(io) Camarones (today the river Wouri with its mouth in the bay of Bonny near Douala)
R(io) de San Benito
R(io) de Anger
Clein Corisco (bay and island of Corisco)
C(abo) S(anta) Clara (Cape Santa Clara, Gabon)
C(abo) S(anta) Catarina (Cape Saint Catherine, south of the equator)
Mayumba (today Mayumba)
Loango (former Kingdom of Loango, today Congo)
Cacongo (former Central African Kingdom of Kakongo, capital Malembo, today Angolan exclave Cabinda)
Angoy (Ngoyo, former kingdom in the south of Cabinda, today in the territory of the D. R. Congo and Angola)
C(abo) do Paddron (Cabo de Padron, South of the mouth of the river Zaire, Congo)
R(io) dos Ambres
R(io) Sierre de Bamba
S(ão) Paulo de Loanda (Luanda, capital of Angola)
R(io) de Coanzo
C(abo) d(e) Breas
B(aia) de Catanbela (Catumbela, Angola)
B(aia) de Toro Bengala (Benguela, Angola)
|Cartographer||Willem Janszoon Blaeu|
|Title||[Manuscript Chart of the South Atlantic Ocean] Tweede stuck wassende Graedkaert van de Kaap Verdische Eilanden tot de Kaap|
|Publisher, Year||Joan Blaeu II, Amsterdam, circa 1690|
|Plate Size||30.5 x 25.3 cm (12.0 x 10.0 inches)|
|Reference||Schilder, G.; Kok, H.: Sailing for the East : History And Catalogue Of Manuscript Charts On Vellum Of The Dutch East India Company [VOC] 1602-1799; Zandvliet, K.: Mapping the Dutch World Overseas in the Seventeenth Century, The History of Cartography, Vol. 3, part 2, pp. 1433–1462.|
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