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Matthaus Merian: Nova Descriptio Africae

Map: AFR5757
Cartographer: Matthaus Merian
Title: Nova Descriptio Africae
Date: 1649
Published: Frankfurt
Width: 15 inches / 39 cm
Height: 11 inches / 28 cm
Map ref: AFR5757
Fine mid-17th Century map of the African Continent, with part of Europe and the Mediterranean and the Arabian Peninsula.

The shape of the continent is fairly accurate for the time, with named settlements along the coastlines. However, the interior geography is largely incorrect with imagined rivers, mythical lakes and mountain ranges. A large proportion of the interior would remain incorrectly mapped or entirely unknown until European explorers arrived in the 19th Century to explore and further colonise the continent.

One of the most prominent geographical features depicted on the map are the two large lakes in the south central region (named “Zaire” and “Zaflan”), which can be seen acting as the source for the River Nile. This concept can be traced back to the classical descriptions by Claudius Ptolemy (fl. circa 150 AD). The placement of these lakes also meant that cartographers enthusiastically embraced them sources for other rivers such as the Zambesi and the Congo.

Across the map, there are many charming embellishments, including a striking compass rose and illustrations of animals found on the continent such as lions, monkeys, elephants, ostriches and camels. Galleons and sea monsters can be found amongst the islands of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans.

This map would have been published in Merian’s “Neuwe Archontologia Cosmica” - a German translation of Pierre d’Avity’s “Les Estats, Empires, et Principautez du Monde” (1616). The geographical sources for this map are the maps of Africa Willem Blaeu, specifically Blaeu’s 1608 wall map, and his 1617 carte-de-figure atlas map (albeit without the decorative border of city plans and locals in traditional dress). Blaeu’s map acted as the source for the mapping of the continent until the end of the 17th Century.

[Betz (R.L.): “The Mapping of Africa: a carto bibliography of printed maps of the African continent to 1700”: No. 67]

Coloured. [AFR5757]