Riding the wave


The Mariners' Mirrour by Sir Anthony Ashley

In England nautical charts developed, as autonomous and indigenous products, only in the 18th century because of the hegemony previously exercised by Holland and then by other European maritime countries: Dutch publishers - up to the production of the van Keulens in late-17th century - published their works in different European languages, and even in Latin, to counter the local production.

After the success of De Spiegel der Zeevaert by L.J. Waghenaer, in 1585 the British government tasked Sir Anthony Ashley with the reproduction of that popular portolan-atlas "in a language familiar to all nations".

Title-page of the Mariners' Mirrour.
(Birmingham Central Library)

The volume, published under the title of The Mariners' Mirrour, was the first atlas printed in English and made in England, but certainly was not an original work, because - despite the fact that the engraving of new plates was assigned to renowned cartographers, including Jocodus Hondius - the revision was mainly limited to the English translation of the cartouches.

Typical of these nautical books for yet two centuries, is the allegorical frontispiece, which in Mirrour is a complex composition, a masterpiece of printing art: nautical instruments of the time - from the dividers to the compass, from the quadrant to the astrolabe to the sounding rod - frame the page, of a neo-classical style, while at the foot of the page a superbly designed vessel is in full sail between rippling waves and sea monsters.

Soon Edward Wright - a student of navigation, inventor of nautical instruments and author of the celebratedCertain Errors in Navigation explaining applications of the projection of Mercator - published in 1599, a world map.

It was probably the first chart printed in Mercator projection, though the latter - until the end of the 17th century - was used by hydrographers only for small scale charts, while coastal chartwere preferably plane.

Anthony Ashley, Baltic Sea [ca 1588]
Anonymous and undated, color, mm. 505 x 330, graphic scale in English, Spanish and Dutch leagues, [ca. 1:420.000], North to the bottom. Cartouche in english "A diligent / description of / THE SEA COASTES / Lyffland with all of tea Isles thereunto appartaning / eene as they do Appear / and open when you sayle / there alongst from Ekehol / men unto Syburghs ness". This chart of the Estonia coast on the Baltic sea, in addition to the seabed and the usual markings indicating low waters, rocks or safe havens, also represents a buoy off Bloote Caerls. Of the Dutch model the Mirrour has kept the ornate style, the bright colors and the "bird's eye viewd" of mountains and cities. At the top there are three coastal views and the sentence "Thus do appeare the Countries heere underwritten when you sayle there before alongste."
(Greenwich, National Maritime Museum .

The chart has been reproduced in Coste del Mondo nella cartografia europea: 1500-1900 , (179 p., about 300 images), by Priuli & Verlucca, publishers, Ivrea, 2000.)