[NOLIN, Jean-Baptiste (1657-1725)] and NOLIN, Jean-Baptiste 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, on four unjoined sheets, each 21 5/8 x 28 inches, if joined would form a map measuring approximately 40 x 49 1/2 inches, in excellent condition.
A rare and highly decorative large-scale map of the Americas, and one of the finest masterpieces produced by the Nolin family.
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 presented 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. While Nolin very successfully collaborated with Coronelli, other cartographers were not appreciative of Nolin's adoption of their intellectual property, as 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, drawing upon 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 lawsuit 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 highly detailed and relatively accurate depiction of eastern Canada and the Mississippi basin conveys an advanced knowledge of the best French sources. The large landmass looming in the lower-right of the combined image, Indes Meridionales , approximates the presence of Antarctica, but is predicated on speculation rather than any actual discovery of such a landmass.
The map features decorative details that represent a social commentary on contemporary European attitudes towards the indigenous peoples they encountered in the New World. The elegant title cartouche formed by period rocaille decoration is inhabited by scenes of the Jesuits evangelizing Christianity to the native peoples. To the lower-left of the combined composition, amidst an elaborate backdrop of exotic tropical vegetation, Mars, the god of war, is shown capriciously watching over two Europeans who are firing rifles onto a group of native Americans, who themselves are engaging in macabre acts of cannibalism. The oceans that lie on either side of the Americas are inhabited by diverse creatures, including sawfish, sea snakes, and flying fish. Numerous ships, some engaged in active combat, allude to the intense contests between European powers for naval supremacy that raged at the time. The tracks of several of the great sea voyages including those of Columbus, Verazanno, Magellan, Quiros, Medaña, and Schouten and Le Maire, traverse the vast maritime spaces.
This presented map is certainly one of finest images of the western hemisphere made in the eighteenth-century. A large-scale work of great artistic merit, the finely engraved details comprise not only an elegant geographical rendering of the Americas and the oceans, but showcase a fascinating vision of contemporary European values with respect to their imperialistic ambitions in the New World.
Hale, The Discovery of the World Maps of the Earth and the Cosmos, p.159.