|Special Collections Division
the University of Texas
at Arlington Libraries
Vol. XV * No. 2 * Fall 2001
The leather cover is worn and slightly scuffed; the pages neatly tucked into the tightly bound spine. Both indicators suggesting that the atlas has been rebound in the last hundred years or so. But turn the pages and you see the extraordinary seventeenth century cartographic work of a man who is called the founder of the French school of geography, Nicolas Sanson d’Abbeville. Special Collections recently acquired the atlas of the influential cartographer to add to its rapidly growing collection of atlases and geographies housed in the Virginia Garrett Cartographic History Library.
Born in 1600 in Abbeville, France, Sanson and the family dynasty he established, took an early lead in scientific mapping, as French cartographers dominated the map world in the seventeenth century. Sanson, who began drawing maps to illustrate his studies, moved into map publishing to provide a living for himself and his growing family. In 1627, he moved to Paris where he caught the attention of Cardinal Richelieu, the advisor to the French King, Louis XIV. Richelieu was instrumental in appointing Sanson as the king’s geography tutor, a fortunate happenstance, which began a lasting association between the teacher and Louis XIV. The king appointed Sanson "Géographe ordinaire du Roy" in 1630, a position he maintained for thirty-five years.
Sanson’s influence was far-reaching and long lasting. His relationship with Louis XIV resulted in strong patronage of French geographers and mapmakers by the long-lived monarch. Sanson’s teaching skills not only included the king, but also members of the prominent Del’Isle family, who established map houses in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. The teacher-geographer-mapmaker also passed his knowledge to his three sons, Nicolas, Adrian, and Guillaume, as well as a nephew, Gilles Robert de Vaugondy, and grandson, Pierre Moulard-Sanson. All came into the family business and the firm flourished for almost a hundred years.
The Sanson maps were noted for detailed presentations that were as beautiful as they were scientific, at least by the standards of the day. The atlas recently acquired by Special Collections is an excellent example of Sanson’s workmanship. The volume titled L’Amerique en plusieurs cartes, et en divers traités de géographie et d’histoire… was published in Paris, we believe, in 1662. There are eighty-two pages of text plus fifteen double page maps relating to the Americas. Among the more prominent maps in the atlas is one of North America depicting the region that will later be known as Texas—the region nestled on the map between "Floride" and "Nouveau Mexique." Others maps are Le Canada, ou Nouvelle France," showing a developing Great Lakes region; the Audience de Mexico, with many place names, stretching from just north of the Panuco River to Yucatan and northern Honduras. The atlas also includes maps of the Caribbean, Central America, and the South American continent along with the major countries of that continent. The work was originally one of a four volume series that was published both as a series and later as separate volumes at various times from 1648 to 1667. The other volumes included L’Europe, L’Asie, and L’Afrique.
In addition, the Virginia Garrett Cartographic History Library has copies of the La Floride map from the 1657 L’Amerique edition, as well as a beautifully colored copy of the influential map, Amerique Septentrionalis, 1650. The Virginia Garrett Library also counts a number of other productions from members of the Sanson family along with other French cartographers, who dominated the map trade in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. The Sanson L’Amerique atlas joins an expanding atlas collection in Special Collections.
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