[NOLIN, Jean-Baptiste (1657-1725)] and Jean-Baptiste NOLIN II (1686-1762)
L'Asie Dressée sur les Nouvelles Observations Faites en toutes les Parties de la Terre et Rectifieés
Paris: Chez J.B. Nolin le Fils Geografe sur le Quay de l'Horloge du Palais a l'Enseigne de la Place des Victoires entre le Rue de Harlay et le Pont Neuf, 1740. Copper-engraved wall map, with original outline colour, of four joined sheets, surrounded by text and vignettes printed on separate sheets, backed onto old linen, with contemporary wooden rollers, overall in very good condition. Sheet size: 49 x 55 inches.
A rare and monumental wall map of Asia by one of the great French masters 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 an earlier maps produced by his father. While the geographical depiction of most of the continent is quite assured for the time, this map is one of the eighteenth-century's most fascinating experiments in cartographic speculation. Published on the very eve of Vitus Bering's voyage to Alaska and eastern Siberia, this map shows that contemporary Europeans had no real concept of what lands might have occupied these regions. North America is thus shown as reaching down to a point just north of Japan. On the other side of the continent, an absurdly large Greenland looms closely over the northern coast of Siberia to a point past Nova Zemlya. On the main map the Mariana Islands, or Nouvelle Phillipines, adorn the Pacific in a configuration consistent with the account of the Jesuit explorer Paul Clain. Curiously, the inset in the upper right corner depicts a different rendering of the same islands as suggested in a Jesuit report of 1697.
Nolin's work is an artistically virtuous composition on a monumental scale, the image being surrounded by thirty vignettes that depict various events from Greek, Roman, Jewish, Christian, and Islamic history. In turn, each vignette is set within an elaborate baroque frame of a unique design, accompanied by textual narratives. The extensive text along the lower margin is entitled "Description Géographique de l'Asie." The upper left of the main image is adorned with an especially resplendent cartouche, featuring Jesuit priests evangelizing to the diverse peoples of the continent.
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.