Riding the wave


Lucas Janszoon Waghenaer and Willem Barentsz

Willem Barentsz, born in mid-sixteenth century, after two memorable trips to the high latitudes in search of a passage to China, reaching 77 ° N in Novaya Zemlya in June 1594, undertook a navigation into the Strait of Kara and then met his death in 1597 on the way back from a third trip to the Spitsbergen islands. He was the first Dutchman who wrote a pilot book of the Mediterranean in 1595.

Cover De Spiegel der Zeevaerdt

The oldest pilot bood for the Atlantic dates back to mid 1200 and is included in the code Valedemar, kept at the Royal Library in Copenhagen. Like later manuscripts until the fifteenth century, it gives indications of directions oriented to the sun or the Pole Star, while distances are measured according to the time needed to travel, and, although illustrated by rough coastal profiles, contains no charts.

The first pilot book complete with charts is De Spiegel der Zeevaerdt, published in 1583-84 by Lucas Janszoon Waghenaer, who translated it into French, English and German, in order to dominate the European market.

It was a work so valuable that the English Admiralty commissioned a remake of it to Sir Anthony Ashley, published probably in 1588, under the title The Mariners' Mirrour. Similarly, in 1590, an edition in French appeared in Antwerp "chez Jean Belle, à l'Aigle d'Or, named Du Miroir de la navigation de la Mer West contenant toutes les cartes de France Espaigne, et la Main partie de l'Angleterre, le tout compris en plusieurs Cartes Marines diuerses; ensenble the usage of icelles, presentement auecq fort grand travail pratique diligence & & assemble, par fils de Lucas I. Chartier , with the same title-page as the English edition.

The Spiegel, which consisted of Part I, with 22 charts from the North Sea to Portugal, and a Part II on 25 charts from the English Channel to the northern countries of Europe, was reissued until 1615 and enjoyed such fame and diffusion, that in England until the eighteenth century, pilot books were called "Waggoners.

England, the south coast. Lucas Jansz Waghenaer [1583]
Engraving, color, mm. 640 x 325, graphic scale in Dutch miles.
From Der Spiegel Zeevaerdt. It is pleasant the sophistication of the polychrome decorated cartouches, the emblematic depictions of sea monsters and ships in full sail, the elaborate roses and frames of the scales; after a practice that will persist until the eighteenth century, they are normally embellished with allegorical compositions, cherubs and nautical instruments. The chart conveys a message that goes beyond its composite nautical information: the out-of-size fish emerging from the water certainly derives from the medieval cartographic tradition and now as then, may indicate dangerous waters but also abundance of fish; the coastal views within the representation are flanked by incongruous disproportionate images seen from a "bird's eye" point of view of rural life, which clearly refer to the local economy.
(The Hague, Algemeen Rijksarchief, LEV A, p. 21)

Utrecht Research Program in the History of Cartography : a glossary of atlases and pilot books published in Holland until the end of the nineteenth century, variously located in the world