Asia ‘carte-a-figures’ map ~ Year 1626
This beautiful so called ‘carte-a-figures’ map is the first English printed map of Asia. Ten costumed figures of Asian peoples and eight city views forming a decorative frieze across the top. Published in London by the famous John Speed, this unique map is largely based on Jodocus Hondius’ map of Asia published 50 years earlier in Amsterdam.
Title: Asia with the Islands Adioyning described, the atire of the people & Townes of importance, all of them newly augmented by J:S: Ano. Dom: 1626.
Korea is shown as a slender oddly projected Peninsula. The Great Wall of China is shown, along with and Elephant above the source of the Ganges. A nice simple/naïve Northeast passage along with a piece of North America and sea monsters in the extreme North Pacific and Southern Indian Sea. The text on the verso presents a fascinating Anglocentric view of Asia in the early 17th Century.
Carte-a-figures ~ Decorative Borders on Maps,
Records of early voyages of exploration consisted primarily of narrative accounts and descriptions contained in ships’ logs, supplemented by hand-drawn charts of the waters, navigational landmarks and hazards, and coastal features. Sketches of birds, animals, vegetation, natives, habitations, and settlements were sometimes made by the captain or other members of the expedition, often as an incidental and unofficial activity. Unfortunately, these original records were frequently lost; those that survived served as source materials for professional cartographers, usually land-based, who created the finished maps and charts. In later years it became customary to include trained artists as members of exploratory groups.
As increasing geographic detail filled the previously empty spaces on maps, opportunities for incorporating decorative elements into the map itself diminished correspondingly. It was inevitable that artistically inclined mapmakers would look to the borders as blank canvases. The decorative borders thus constituted a frame for the geographic picture.
Furthermore, appropriately designed images could create a conceptual setting for the geography and provide supplementary information such as pictures of inhabitants and their customs, settlements and sea ports, the fauna, flora, and natural resources of the lands portrayed Alternatively, the decorative imagery could be unrelated to the geography and be devoted to scientific exposition or allegorical themes, or could simply be a visual catalog of information concerning the universe or the human condition.
The format of the border decorations, initially free-form with one image merging into another to fill the available space surrounding the map itself, gradually became more compartmentalized and culminated in a formalized arrangement of paneled vignettes on three or four sides of the map. This format, termed “carte d. figure,” first appeared on early seventeenth century Dutch wall maps, and was subsequently widely used on smaller maps in various countries. (Ref. The Osher Map Library & Smith Center for Cartographic Education)