Full Course of the Rio Grande First Identified on a Printed Map

1660 Map of North America on a Stereographic Equatorial Projection Showing California as an Island

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344. [MAP]. NICOLOSI, Giovanni Battista. Mexicvm in hac forma in lucem edebat Ioannes Baptista Nicolosivs S.T.D. [Rome, 1660]. Copper-engraved map on laid paper with anchor watermark marked with initials “ML,” on a stereographic equatorial projection of North America on four separate sheets numbered 1, 2, 3, and 4, each measuring approximately 42 x 53.5 cm; overall the map assembles to approximately 80.5 x 101 cm. Some mild browning at centerfold of some sheets, otherwise very fine, large-margined copy.

     First state, Rio Grande labelled as “R. Escondido,” no mention of Drake’s landing in California, Lake Ontario unshaded and unnamed, etc. Burden 355 (State 1): Leighly, California as an Island 38. Lowery 151a. McLaughlin, California as an Island 23 (State 1). Phillips, Atlases 467 & 482. Taliaferro, pp. 9 & 27: “It is on G.B. Nicolosi’s map of North America, 1660, that the full course of the [Rio Grande] river is first identifiable on a printed map.” Wagner, Cartography of the Northwest Coast #383 (Vol. 2, p. 386): “Sanson 1652 type.” Wheat, Mapping the Transmississippi West #53 & Vol. I, p. 41 (citing a later state; rejecting the Sanson model suggested by Wagner):

This map combined—even more than did those of Sanson—the old and the new, the myths of the earlier cartographers and the slowly emerging knowledge from on-the-spot experience.... Nicolosi still showed California as a great island.... If Nicolosi thus let the older geography overmaster him, it is nevertheless true that his map disclosed two important elements of progress. Foremost among these is his careful rendering of the R. del Norte [Rio Grande].... From this it might appear that this cartographer may have had at his disposal a fairly accurate Spanish map.... Nicolosi’s second contribution was the use of actual place names.

     Although the Spanish settlements in New Mexico were already more than half a century old, previous maps of the Southwest relied more upon myth than geographic knowledge. Nicolosi’s map was the first to incorporate accurate first-hand information, but it also retains many of the mythological ideas of earlier maps. For example, while the course of the Rio Grande is laid out far more carefully and accurately than ever before, it is called the Rio Escondido in this first state (but corrected to “R. del Norte” in the second state in 1671). The map continues to show California as an island.

     Giovanni Battista Nicolosi (1610-1671), priest and cartographer to Propaganda Fide, Rome, authored Dell’Hercole e Studio Geografico (Rome, 1660; a second edition in 1670-1671), in which the various states of the present map appeared. For notes on Nicolosi’s life, see Mongitore’s Bibliotheca sicula, 1707, pp. 332-334. Johannes Keuning mentions Nicolosi’s early use of stereographic equatorial projection for a land map, as opposed to a star map (“The History of Geographical Projections...” in Imago Mundi, Vol. 12, 1955, p. 20). See also Jackson, Flags along the Coast, pp. 104-105 & Plate 6, noting Sicilian ecclesiastic Nicolosi’s possible influence by Hessel Gerritz’s manuscript map showing the Gulf and Pacific coasts (“True, the French published most of the exciting maps of America during these years, but their reliance on Spanish manuscript sources is an incontrovertible fact”).


Sold. Hammer: $4,000.00; Price Realized: $4,900.00.

Auction 23 Abstracts

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