[NOLIN, Jean-Baptiste (1657-1725)] and Jean-Baptiste NOLIN II (1686-1762).
L'Amerique Dressée sur les Relations les plus Recentes rectifiées sur les dernieres observations
Paris: Chez l'Auteur Rue St. Jacques au dessus de la Rue des Mathurins a lensgne. de la Place des Victoires, 1740. Copper-engraved wall map, with original outline colour, composed from four joined sheets, surrounded by text and vignettes printed on separate sheets, backed onto old linen, with contemporary wooden rollers. Sheet size: 49 x 55 inches.
First state of a rare and monumental wall map of the Americas by a great French master of cartography.
Jean-Baptiste Nolin was one of the most accomplished and certainly the most ambitious French cartographer of his era. He founded what ultimately became a family empire in Paris in the 1680s. Exceptionally, he managed to marry superlative decorative ornamentation with the serious objective of producing maps that reflected the most advanced rendering of geographical detail. The artistic élan of his compositions evinced a style that preserved the rhetorical ambitions of the Baroque ethic, while anticipating the playful elegance of the Rococo period. His masterpieces, many like the present wall map, were monumental in scale and represented Nolin's desire to overwhelm his competition in what was a very challenging market. Highly controversial, Nolin occasionally described himself as "the Engraver to the King," an appointment of which the royal court was curiously never apprised. In his endeavour to include the very latest geographical details on his maps, he seldom hesitated to acquire information from his eminent contemporaries, most notably Guillaume De L'Isle and Vincenzo Maria Coronelli, Jean-Dominique Cassini and the Sieur de Tillemon. At times these rivals were not appreciative of Nolin's adoption of their intellectual property, and De L'Isle successfully sued Nolin for plagiarism in 1705. However, the larger-than-life Nolin always seemed to transcend these challenges, leaving a thriving enterprise to be taken up by his son.
The present map was created in 1740 by Jean-Baptiste Nolin II, largely based on earlier maps produced by his father. This work ambitiously endeavours to depict the Americas in the most up-to-date geographic form, generally borrowing from the most authoritative sources. Ironically, it was the senior Nolin's desire to acquire the most accurate information that caused him to propagate one of the eighteenth-century's greatest cartographic myths. By this time, South America had been quite thoroughly explored, however, the Pacific northwest and the adjacent interior areas of North America remained largely unseen by European eyes. The only prominent feature present in this terra incognita is the mythical Mer de l'Ouest, that sees the Pacific protrude dramatically into the continental landmass. The senior Nolin was the first cartographer to put this detail into print, his campaign of corporate espionage having uncovered a manuscript map by De L'Isle which depicted the sea. This incident was one of the key pieces of evidence that won De L'Isle's suit against Nolin. Although the Mer de l'Ouest is dramatically smaller here than in its original form (and is unlabelled in this map) it sustains a fascinating myth.
The map is an artistically virtuous composition on a monumental scale, the image being surrounded by thirty vignettes that depict the dramatic historical events that shaped the founding of the French and Spanish empires in the Americas. Each vignette is set within an elaborate baroque frame of a unique design, accompanied by descriptive text. The extensive text along the lower margin entitled "Description Géographique de l'Amérique" places this important map into its greater social and historical context. The map is further enhanced by a large decorative title cartouche, magnificently framed by period rocaille motifs, that depicts French Jesuits ministering to the Indians. A small vignette below the cartouche shows beavers at work, a popular motif on eighteenth-century maps of America
The map also features a decorative detail that represents a social commentary on contemporary European attitudes towards the indigenous peoples they encountered in the New World. The scene occupying the lower-left of the main image depicts Mars, the god of war, capriciously watching over two Europeans who are firing rifles onto a group of native Americans, who themselves are engaging in macabre acts of cannibalism.
This wall map is one of the greatest subjects of the Nolins' legacy, not only being a masterful work of art and a fascinating image that tests the very limits of European geographical knowledge, but a vivid record of a dramatic transitional period in the history of cartography, and of society in general.
Hale, The Discovery of the World Maps of the Earth and the Cosmos, p. 159.