Norumbega et Virginia

by Cornelius van Wytfliet

A unique map


Date of first edition: 1597

Date of this map: 1597

Dimensions (including margins): 24 x 30,3 cm

Condition: Excellent. Centre fold as published. Slim margins. Margins previously reinforced.

Condition rating: A+

Verso: blank

Map reference: Van der Krogt 2, 9200:371:1, page 17 (top right)

From: Descriptionis Ptolemaicae Augmentum; Van der Krogt 371:01-13




Item number:
The Americas
North America
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One of the earliest maps of the East coast of the United States

First state (left latitude written “30” instead of “39”) of Cornelis van Wytfliet’s Norumbega et Virginia, the highly important map of the Atlantic Seaboard of North America from the first atlas to focus on the Mapping of the New World.

The map embraces the eastern coastline of North America, from the Outer Banks of North Carolina to Cape Breton Island. It is from the first edition of Wytfliet’s Descriptionis Ptolemaicae Augmentum, a pioneering work that set a precedent for the geographic descriptions and atlases of the Americas that followed.

Incorrect is the positioning of the Chesipooc Sinus (Chesapeake) at 43 degrees, the latitude of what is now Maine. Then Wytfliet will compensate and he shows the coast north of Chesapeake in an almost east-west line. Also Y. de Breton (Cape Breton Island), now part of Nova Scotia, is too far to the south. It is therefore also unlikely that R. Primero (First River in the state of New Jersey) is shown correctly. To the south, the Outer Banks (North Carolina) are better presented with Hatarask (Hatteras), Roanoac and to the south Buelta de Arenas (thus linking Wytfliet with the Florida map). This part of the map is inspired entirely by Gastaldi, the map of 1548, and by John Whites sketches, assigned to Bry.

Wytfliet’s map is a highly important record of European knowledge of the region immediately prior to the English voyages of discovery and settlement in Virginia and New England and Champlain’s French expeditions to eastern Canada. In addition to the Dutch voyages to the Mid-Atlantic region, the knowledge and cartographic depiction of the region would change radically over the next 30 years.

Wytfliet’s map is the most accurate depiction of the region prior to Joannes de Laet’s map, Nova Anglia, Novvm Belgivm Et Virginia (1630). It is the second appearance of the name Virginia in the title of a printed map, following Theodor De Bry’s publication of John White’s map of 1590. The most notable anomaly is the depiction of the mid-Atlantic coastal region approximately 5 degrees north of its actual location, placing the Chesipooc Sinus (Chesapeake Bay) far north of its actual location, an error also present in De Jode’s 1593, Americae Pars Borealis. The map pre-dates the appearance of Long Island or the Hudson River. The source of the error probably derives from White’s map of 1590.

The origin of the name Norumbega is controversial. The term apparently was an Indian name for a river. Jacques Cartier in 1534, brought back from the Montreal area what he thought were diamonds, later found to be worthless crystals. This may have contributed to the idea of Norumbega as a rich realm worth finding. Gerard Mercator in 1569 showed Norumbega as a place of importance as a fortified capital bristling with towers, near the Bay of Fundy. From 1604 to 1607, Champlain searched the northern coasts for Norumbega, without success. His map of 1612 gave that name to an insignificant Indian village at the mouth of the Penobscot and thereon the name began dropping off the map.

The present example is the first of three states of the map. It features the date 1597 in the title and can be distinguished from the second state (printed in 1607), in which the date has been removed. Curiously both the first and the second states feature the erroneous demarcation of 30 degrees latitude in the left-hand margin, a detail that would be corrected to 39 degrees in the third state (1611). The map is a highly elegant example of engraving, featuring a large compass rose and Wytfliet’s signature wavy striations marking the seas.

Cornelius Wytfliet (? – 1597)

Cornelius Wytfliet was a geographer from Leuven. After graduating Licentiate in Laws from the University of Leuven, Wytfliet moved to Brussels and became secretary to the Council of Brabant.
In 1597 he published the first atlas of America: the Descriptionis Ptolemaicae Augmentum (Augmentation to Ptolemy’s description). He named his work an augmentation to Ptolemy’s Geography because it covers the Americas, a part of the world unknown to Ptolemy. However, there is no other connection between the works of Ptolemy and Van Wytfliet. Dedicated to Philip III of Spain it is a history of the New World to date, recording its discovery, natural history, etc. It provides a history of exploration and the voyages of Christopher Columbus (1492-1502), John Cabot (1497-98), Sebastian Cabot (1526-28), Francisco Pizarro (1527-35), Giovanni de Verazzano (1524), Jacques Cartier (1540-42), and Martin Frobisher (1576-78). Most of Van Wytfliet’s maps are the first or among the earliest of specific regions of North and South America.

For the book, Wytfliet had engraved nineteen maps, one of the world and eighteen regional maps of the Americas. The book was an immediate success and ran to several editions.
Two editions of the Descriptionis Ptolemaicae were published et Leuven in 1597 and 1598. In 1603 appeared the first Douai edition with later editions with French text. The last edition was published in Arnhem in 1615.

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