Riding the wave


The "charting school" of Dieppe

The Cradle of French cartography and, in general, of the French nautical culture was Dieppe in Normandy, closely connected to the Portuguese maritime and cartographic scenario of the time : flourishing in 1500, the school of Dieppe formed men who were not only sailors or cartographers, but had the title of "cosmographers of the King", and were also explorers, pilots, and instructors authorized to issue patents of competency to sea-captains.

The founder may have been Jean Rotz, an associate of Francis Drake's, who was the author of a manuscript nautical atlas, originally intended as a present for Francis I of France and then dedicated to Henry VIII, after Rotz moved England.

In addition to its beauty - for richness of colors, roses, flowery frames, images emblematic of local habits - the work is extremely interesting from a historical and geographical point of view.

It is in fact the first atlas representing the French West Indies, including a mysterious land south of Java island, surrounded by large and small islands, which does not appear on contemporary Portuguese charts, but is present of all the Dieppe charts of the time.

For example, the splendid watercolored manuscript portolano-atlas of Nicolas Vallard, 1547 - preserved at the Henry E. Huntington Library and Art Gallery, San Marino, California, which provides online images in 1:1 scale - ehibits a "Terra Java". What can it be, but Australia?

It thus remains an open question whether Oceania, reached by Tasman a century later and then eventually "re-discovered" by Cook between 1768 and 1780, was already known to mariners and fishermen from Normandy, who may have reported their sightings to the cartographers of Dieppe.

Jean Rotz, 1542. 16 ms sheets on parchment paper, 770x595 mm.
Folio 9-10: The West Indies
Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale de France .
The paper appears on Les Portulans: cartes marines du XIIIe siècle / par Monique La Roncière et Michel Mollat du Jourdin, Fribourg, Office du Livre, 1984. The work, accompanied by excellent reproductions of the cartographic holdings of the National Library of France, is accompanied by extensive analytical comments.
More news on the school map of Dieppe and J. Rotz at the pages
Rotz Atlas

By Paola Presciuttini, 2002