Illustrated Maps In History – Desceliers’ Map

Continuing our series about Illustrated Maps in History, let’s take a look at Desceliers’ World Map. This map dates back to the mid 16th century. It was drawn in a style similar to the sea charts of the time, with compass directions and navigational lines being prominent features, but the map itself is not designed to be used as a sea map.
Desceliers’ World Map was created as a display piece for King Henri II of France. It was intended to be shown off on a table in his library, or stored in his curiosities cabinet. The navigational value of the map may be questionable, but as a piece of art it is definitely fit for a king. The map was created in 1550, and King Henri died just nine years later. It’s fortunate that his heirs chose to preserve this map, as it preserves both the knowledge, the artistic style, and the attitudes of the era in which it was created with amazing detail.
This illustrated map of the world was drawn by hand by Pierre Desceliers of the Dieppe School of Cartography. It is a rather large piece, and drawing it with the tools available at the time would have been a challenging undertaking.
The coastal lines on this map are surprisingly accurate for the time period in which it was created, and are a testament to Decelier’s knowledge of navigation and geography. Once you move in-land, the geography is slightly less sound, however. The map paints a picture of the world based partly on observation, and partly on classical sources.
It’s this blend of knowledge and classical geography that makes this map so beautiful. It’s a true insight into a different time period and it stands alone as a Renaissance artwork.

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