Riding the wave


Alexander Malaspina

The Enlightenment produced in Spain, too, a renewed interest in mapping and navigation: already in 1681 the Charting School of San Telmo had been founded in Seville. In 1749 all hydro-cartographic activities were centralized in the Dirección de Hidrográfia which, in 1790, José de Espinosa - explorer, hydrographer and author of charts of North America - complemented with the Deposit Hidrográfico, responsible for the engraving, printing and distribution of the official State charts.

The eighteenth century was the century of the great transoceanic expeditions aimed no longer at the explicit conquest of overseas territories, but rather at the scientific investigation and systematic knowledge of the territory. The last great expedition of the Age of Enlightenment was conducted by Alexander Malaspina (1754-1810), an Italian nobleman, who left in 1789 from Cadiz, and reached Argentina and Cape Horn, sailed up to Mexico, from where it reached the Pacific and then back to Peru, wherever performing scientific observations and findings which resulted in 94 maps and drawings, in large part the work of the Italian painters Fernando Brambilla (1763-1834) and Juan Ravenet.

After returning to Spain in 1794, Malaspina was jailed for obscure political reasons. Napoleon gave him freedom in 1802, but the scientific results of the expedition were largely lost, and only part of them were published in the second half of 1800. His charts and the pertinent drawings were lost too, save a small number that M. Fernandez de Navarrete Madrid could assemble in the archives of de Dirección Hidrográfica first, and later on in the Naval Museum.

Chart of Peru, Madrid. 1780, 1:2.300.000,
by F. Alvarez de Villanueva