Riding the wave


The Sun King and the general map of the Mediterranean

Throughout the seventeenth century the Low Countries were the major maritime country and producer of cartographic works, and France lost its relevance. However, during the reign of Louis XIV cartographers regained their role, obtaining Court protection and funding. Personalities emerged such as Jaillot, the Sansons, Delisle and Cassini. The progenitor of this family of astronomers-cartographers was born in Italy but had acquired French citizenship, and was appointed director of the Paris Observatory in 1669. His mandate was to develop a method to calculate longitude, as well as to make a full survey of the French coasts.

France meanwhile intended to gain control over the Mediterranean - where the presence of the British and Dutch fleets was still strong and unwelcomed - in an era of latent belligerency with Spain. The Navy thus received the task of drafting a general map of the Mediterranean coasts on the basis of detailed and systematic surveys, such as to return the exact morphology of cities, harbours, coastal defenses and fortifications, and whatever could be of strategic relevance in the event of an assault from the sea, or viceversa offer the enemy defensive positions ashore.

Such task was entrusted to the "engineers of the King", a body created by Jean Baptiste Colbert in 1666, which was in charge of coastal surveying and surveillance, and had already surveyed the Atlantic coasts. This general chart, by Charles Pène and Jacques Petré, which was started in 1679 and was completed in 1685, included nearly 130 maps from very large to very small scales, and coastal profiles from Gibraltar to the Dardanelles.

This corpus of manuscripts and documents is now preserved in the archives of the Service Historique de la Marine in Vincennes, and completes the Neptune François ..., i.e., the total coverage of the Atlantic from Gibraltar to Norway. The Neptune too, had been ordered by Colbert, and included twenty-four charts made with the collaboration of Pène, Cassini and others. It was published in the form of an atlas by Hubert Jaillot in 1693, and was re-issued up to the middle of the following century.

Oneglia (Liguria, Italy) in VEUE DE LA VILLE D'ONEiLLE AUX COSTES A OVEST DE LA RIVIERE DE GENES in the general chart made between 1679 and 1685 in approximately 130 sheets from small to large scales and coastal views from Gibraltar to the Dardanelles (Vincennes, Service Historique de la Marine)
The chart was reprodued in Coste del Mediterraneo nella cartografia europea 1500-1900 , by Paola Presciuttini, Priuli & Verlucca Publishers, 2004, 179 p., 318 ill.