Early Modern cartography was centred round a group of pioneers working in the Netherlands in the sixteenth century. The two best-known cartographers being Gerhard Mercator and Abraham Ortelius but they were by no means the only map publishers competing for the market. One notable engraver cartographer, who has slipped out of public awareness, is Gerard de Jode.
He was born in Nijmegen, then part of the Spanish Lowlands in 1509, which appears to be the sum total of all that is know about his origins or early life; a not uncommon situation with Renaissance figures. At some point he moved to Antwerp and in 1547 he was admitted to the Guild of St Luke. At the time Antwerp was a booming trading city, the second biggest city in Northern Europe after Paris and probably the richest city in Europe. Because of its large population and accumulated wealth it was also a major centre for both the book and map trades.
The Guild of St Luke was principally the guild for painters and other artists and De Jode was an engraver. To become a guild member he would have had to have been a master, so we can assume that he had served an apprenticeship and worked as a journeyman engraver prior to becoming a guild member. He received permission to set up a printing office in Antwerp in 1551.
This was not a one-man business and he employed a number of skilled engravers, who are well known craftsmen. His workshop produced a wide range of engraved products but he appears to have specialised to a certain extent in cartography and map production. Antwerp was a major centre for the map trade and De Jode printed and published single maps by notable cartographers.
In 1555 he issued an edition of the world map of the renowned Venetian cartographer Giacomo Gastaldi (c. 1500–1566). Gastaldi had originally been an engineer working for the Venetian Republic but in the 1640s he turned to cartography. His 1648 edition of Ptolemaeus’ Geographia is notable for including regional maps of the Americas and for being reduced in size to produce the first ‘pocket’ atlas. It also represents a shift from woodblock to copper plate printing in cartography. His world map is interesting in that it shows the Americas and Asia as a single conjoined landmass, a common geographical misconception of the period.
In 1558 he produced an edition of Jacob van Deventer’s map of Brabant.
Jacob van Deventer (c. 1500–1575) was born in Kampen, also in the Spanish Lowlands. He is part of the mathematical heritage of the University of Leuven, where he registered as a student in 1520. It was in Leuven that he developed his interest in geography and cartography. He later moved to Mechelen and in 1572 to Köln to escaped the Dutch Revolt against the Spanish. In 1536 he produced the map of Brabant that De Jode would later reprint. It is the earliest known map to use the method of triangulation first described in print by Gemma Frisius (1508–1555) in his Libellus de locorum describendorum ratione (1533).
It was once thought that Deventer had learnt the technique from Gemma but given that Gemma’s book was only published in 1533 and Van Deventer’s map already in 1536 it seems improbable. Two other possibilities are that Gemma learnt the technique from Deventer or they both learnt it from a third unknown source. We will probably never know.
Deventer was appointed Imperial Cartographer by Charles V in 1540, the title being changed to Royal Cartographer after the emperor’s abdication in 1555. In 1559 he was commissioned to survey and map all of the cities in the Spanish Lowlands, a task that he completed with great competence. Due to their military significance the maps were never published.
In 1564 De Jode published another world map by a famous cartographer, the eight-sheet wall map of Abraham Ortelius (1527–1598), which would later appear in reduced form in Ortelius’ Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (1570).
This was actually Ortelius’ first published map and De Jode would also produce a reduced version of it. The two cartographers would go on to become serious rivals.
It is not known if De Jode independently came up with the idea of producing a book of uniform maps, what we now call an atlas, or whether he was inspired by Ortelius’ endeavour but he produced his own Speculum Orbis Terrarum.
Whereas Ortelius presented the world on a stage as a theatre, De Jode held a mirror up to the globe reflecting it in his maps. It appears that Ortelius used his reputation and his influential connections to enforce his monopoly and De Jode’s Speculum first appeared in 1578, when Ortelius’ official printing privilege for Antwerp ended. However, by that time Ortelius had established himself so well in the market that De Jode’s atlas suffered the same fate as Mercator’s and flopped, although it was considered at least as good as if not actually superior to Ortelius’ Theatrum.
However, De Jode appears not to have been too dispirited by the failure of his project as he set about preparing a second expanded edition. Rather like Mercator, he died in 1591 before he could complete this work and like Mercator, it was his son Cornelius de Jode (1568–1600), who completed the work and issued the Speculum Orbis Terrae in 1593.
This too failed to sell well. The book however, features a pair of interesting polar projection world maps strongly influenced by Guillaume Postel’s polar planisphère from 1578.
Guillaume Postel (1510-1581) was a French polymath principally known as a linguist, he was also an astronomer, cosmologists, cartographer, cabbalist, diplomat and religious universalist.
Tried by the Inquisition in 1553 for heresy he was found insane and imprisoned in the Papal prisons in Rome. He was released in 1559 but then confined in a monastery in Paris from 1566 till his death. Postel did not invent the polar projection; it had already been used by Walter Ludd (1448–1547)–administrator of the Gymnasium Vosagense, whose most well known member was the cartographer Martin Waldseemüller(c. 1470–1520)–for a diagram in Gregor Reisch’s Margarita philosophica (1512), but Postel’s was the first large scale use of the projection and it influenced not just De Jode.
Following Cornelius’ death the plates for the De Jode Speculum were sold to the Antwerp book and print seller Joan Baptista Vrients, who also acquired the plates for Ortelius’ Theatrum at about the same time. Although Vrients published several very successful editions of the Theatrum in the early years of the seventeenth century, he never reissued the Speculum, so it appears he only acquired it to remove a potential competitor from the market.
It should not be thought that because his atlas project failed that De Jode was not in general successful. His business in Antwerp was very successful turning out prints of all kinds and he also had a flourishing stand at the Frankfurt Book Fair where he not only sold his wares but acquired foreign prints and maps that he then copied for his own printing office back home. Following the death of Gerard and his oldest son Cornelius the family business was set forth by his second son Pieter de Jode the elder (1570–1634), an artist and engraver, who became a master of the Guild of St Like in Antwerp in 1599.
He in turn was succeeded by his son Pieter de Jode (1606–1674) the younger, also an artist and engraver.
The line ended with Pieter the younger’s son Arnold born in 1638, who although he studied engraving under his father never rose to the standards of his illustrious forebears.
I find it an interesting speculation that if De Jode’s Speculum had been successful, we today take down a mirror from the bookshelf to look at maps of the world.