Mappe-Monde ou Carte Universelle.
NICOLAS DE FER
An intriguing world map drawn by a leading cartographer of the 18th Century, Nicolas de Fer. De Fer’s world map is of interest not only for what it depicts, but also for its choice of omissions. The map was published in De Fer’s Atlas Curieux ou le monde représenté dans des cartes générales… in 1705.
The first element that is of interest is the drawing of California as an island. Although cartographers of the 16th and early 17th Century, such as Gerard Mercator and Abraham Ortelius, correctly drew the region as a Peninsula following reports from the Spanish explorer Francisco de Ulloa, the misconception of California as an island began to be depicted following a map drawn by Michiel Colijin’s in1622 and persisted well into the late 18th Century.
What is of interest is the fact that De Fer’s depiction of the myth of California as an island is based not only on the cartographic misconception the times, but also from the information he pirated from Father Eusebio Kino’s manuscript map of 1696, which, along with his Paso for Tierra á la California, found their way to France, while he was exploring of the Southern portion of Baja California. The irony, is that Father Kino would eventually disprove the California as an island myth as early as 1701, but his map Carte du passage par terre a la Californie… would only be published in Lettres Edifiantes in 1705, the same year as De Fer’s Atlas Curieux…
Another aspect of De Fer’s map that is of interest is the total omission of any mention of the English colonies on the Northeast coast. De Fer partitions the continent between Nouvelle Espagne, for the Spanish land claims, and La Louisiane and Canada ou Nouvelle France for the French land claims. That being said, it could be argued that the map is very much French centric as the routes circumnavigating the globe emanate only from France and/or Portugal. This could be a result of the fact that the map was published in the early years of the War of the Spanish Succession when the heir apparent to the Spanish Crown, which at the time included Portugal, was from the Royal House of Bourbon.
Another aspect that needs to be underlined is the fact that De Fer’s map does not speculate as to the Pacific Northwest of America, a land which was, until then, mostly unexplored. Yet, in placing the map’s cartouche over the entire Pacific Northwest, Francis Drake’s claim for the English Crown of New Albion is completely omitted.
De Fer also omits any depiction of Antartica other than to mention in a notation that some cartographers believe in the existence of a large body of land that remained, for the time being, unknown. Furthermore, although De Fer’s map has certain misconceptions, for example his drawing of Australia and New Guinea, his overall depiction of his mappe-monde is a fair representation of the knowledge of the times.
Thus, De Fer’s map is intriguing because it does provide a more scientific approach in depicting the world by avoiding some of the more speculative aspects of cartography that can be witnessed on other maps of the era. However, De Fer’s map, in undertaking a more political view of the state of the world, maintains some of the more controversial aspects of early 18th Century cartography, namely that of depicting California as an island. By depicting California as an island, it was posited that the English claim to New Albion would be diminished if not, figuratively speaking, totally erased from the map. The map is thus a good example of the objective and subjective nature of cartography.