Riding the wave


The Compagnie des Indes, Jean-Baptiste d'Après de Mannevillette

In the eighteenth century, the Compagnie des Indes entrusted to Jean-Baptiste d'Après de Mannevillette - son of a sea captain previously working for the same company and a famous hydrographer in his time - the compilation of a nautical atlas to sail along the African coasts to the East Indies. The work appeared in 1745 as Neptune Oriental, anticipating by several years a similar atlas published in Amsterdam by van Keulen on behalf of the Dutch East India Company.

The volume, of a large size, was called the Neptune / Oriental / ou / Routier General / Côtes des / des Indes Orientales / et de la Chine / ... / Dedié à Monseigneur de Orry Fulvy, Conseilleur d'Etat ... / Par M. D'après de Mannevillette, Lieutenant des Vaisseaux de / Compagnie des Indes ... / A Paris / De l'Imprimerie de Jean-François Robustel, Rue de la Calendra près le / Palais, à l'image de Saint Jean / MDCCXLV.

It consists of 111 pages and 30 hand-coloured charts, and as the author explicitly states in the preface, it is designed to counteract the cartographic hegemony of Holland and England.

D'après de Mannevillette, due to the great success of his Neptune Oriental, received the direction of a special office for the production of maps for the East, and spent the next thirty years in extending and improving his Neptune, which had a much larger new edition in 1775, and eventually required a supplement, published posthumously in 1781 and reissued in 1797.

For almost thirty years to come the French cartographic production remained assembled in similar atlases in folio called Neptune (de la Méditerranée, de l'Amérique, du Grand Océan ...), which offered virtually worldwide coverage in at least 15 volumes, often reissued in expanded versions.

Table No. 12 of the Neptune Oriental is a chart of the coasts of India to the mouth of the Ganges in the Bay of Bengal, which indicates shoals and some soundings. The paper is crossed by the usual dense network of " wind directions ", which originate from many regularly-distributed roses, while coastal waters are watercolored in light green. The coasts are original in their being drawn so that nountains appear in perspective while inside the coastal views some buildings are obviously exaggerated in height.
(Livorno Naval Academy)

Paola Presciuttini, 2002