This book, another product of the Columbian Quincentenary, is the catalogue of a 1992 exhibition of maps of the Americas in the collection of the Bibliothèque Royale in Brussels. The exhibition included 59 maps and plans from the fifteenth to the mid-nineteenth century, ranging from world maps to nautical charts and city plans. The catalogue includes excellent reproductions of about half the works exhibited, 14 in color and 12 in black and white. The authors give a detailed account of each map, with discussion of its provenance, biographical information on the individuals involved in its production, and analysis of the cartographic and written sources on which it was based. Each item is examined in the broader context of evolving geographic and cartographic knowledge of the New World, with discussion of such issues as the changing views of the shape and extension of the South American continent and the erroneous tradition of depicting California as an island. Extensive references for further reading are also provided.
Most of the maps included were made by professional cartographers who worked in Europe and had no direct experience of the regions described. Most provide general rather than detailed local information. As one would expect from the nature of the exhibition, the Low Countries predominate, with maps by Abraham Ortelius, Michel Mercator, Jodocus Hondius, Willem Blaeu, Frederick de Wit, and others. Iberian cartography is represented only by Juan de La Cosa’s world map and an eighteenth-century map of South America by Juan de la Cruz Cano y Olmedilla, which is not reproduced. A plan of the city and fort at Willemstad on Curaçao is included, but Latin American cities are represented only by the well-known schematic views of Mexico City and Cuzco from the Civitates Orbis Terrarum. Maps of particular interest to Latin Americanists include Sir Robert Dudley’s map of Guiana and the mouths of the Orinoco; Dutch nautical charts of the Atlantic and Caribbean by Willem Blaeu, Hendrick Doncker, and Gerard van Keulen; general maps of South America by Arnold van Langren and Vincenzo Maria Coronelli; and a map of New Granada and Popayán published by Willem Blaeu but actually the work of Hessel Geritz, one of the few professional cartographers who did travel to the New World. A map of Pernambuco by Georg Marcgraf and one of California and the Southwest by Eusebio Kino were included in the exhibition but not reproduced in the book.
Although it does not provide a complete picture of local cartographical knowledge, particularly for Spanish and Portuguese America, the book does a good job of describing how such knowledge of the New World evolved in Western Europe; and the reproductions alone may make it worth having.