Featured Objects

Johann Theodor De Bry, Zelon in Historia Indiae Orientalis, Book 7, plate IX stitched, (Frankfurt, 1613). John Rylands Library Special Collections 11123.6.

At the heart of this early Dutch map of Zelon (Ceylon, present-day Sri Lanka) a hybrid-figure with an elephant head, a human torso, and human hands stands upright on horse-like legs. Kneeling worshipers flank the figure, depicting the Buddhist deity Ganesha. The idol draws attention to the administrative, cultural, and religious centre of the island, the Kandy court, a Sinhalese stronghold both Portuguese and Dutch colonizers sought to penetrate. Moving away from the centre, the landscape is stippled with Buddhist pagodas, Catholic churches, and Portuguese military fortifications. At the bottom of the map, a ‘Grand Pagoda’ and tall mountain dominate the landscape. The mountain is labelled in Portuguese as Pica Dadam, known today in English as Adam’s Peak. The site was long venerated by Buddhists and Hindus, who believed the foot-shaped indent at the top of the mountain belonged to Buddha and Shiva respectively. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, as the island was occupied by European colonizers, it also became a sacred site for Christians, who held that the imprint belonged to Adam. By mirroring the ‘Grand Pagoda’ with the Christianized Adam’s Peak, the map maker underscores the political tension between the Sinhalese and Portuguese and accentuates the religious aspects of their rivalry. Furthermore, their reflection of one another highlights similarities between the two religions in their ‘idolatrous’ modes of worship, a prejudice repeated throughout the text this map originally accompanied. A cartouche decorating the right corner is uncharacteristically blank, prompting questions about why and for whom this map was originally made.

This map comes from Historia Indiae Orientalis, a compilation of travel narratives and engravings of European expansion in Asia. It was first published in 1607 by Johann Theodor De Bry (1561-1623) and was followed by numerous subsequent editions in Latin and German. The original map can be traced back to Joris van Spilbergen’s (1568-1620) Historiael Journael (1605), a travel log detailing the first Dutch envoy to Ceylon led by Zeelander Joris van Spilbergen from 1602 to 1604. Historiael Journael was published in Delft, Holland in 1605 by the publisher, engraver, and cartographer Balthasar Floris van Berckenrode (1562/63-1616), probably at the request the States General and stadholder Prince Maurice of Orange (1567-1625), the leaders of the young Republic of the Seven United Netherlands. In addition to the ship log, the book includes a short political history of the island, focusing on Portuguese-Sinhalese relations. It also frequently describes similarities between Catholic and Buddhist veneration of religious images, which was considered idolatrous by the Reformed Dutch Calvinists responsible for producing Historiael Journael. The text was accompanied by fourteen plates – a map, numerous town plans, Buddhist symbols, and a portrait of the encounter between Spilbergen and King Vimaladharmasuriya of Kandy.

The original map’s cartouche dedicates the image, volume, and journey to Prince Maurice and the ‘Gentlemen of Zeeland’. Immediately one notices two coats of arms in the top corners that do not appear in De Bry’s version. On the left is the crest of the Province of Zeeland and on the right that of Prince Maurice of Orange. (Link to original map below.) The Dutch do not put themselves on the original map of Zelon with symbols of settlements, rather they claim dominion over the entire island with Dutch coats of arms that loom over the land, dedications to Dutch leaders, and a homophone title that makes it seem like Zelon belongs to Zeeland. The text reflects this. During Spilbergen’s stay in Kandy, King Vimaladharmasuriya began to learn Dutch and exclaimed in Dutch that ‘Candy is New Flanders.’

Deeper investigation suggests Historiael Journael was Dutch propaganda that function in conjunction with other carto-propaganda initiatives, like the production of siege and survey maps, many of which appeared in Dutch news. Over forty Dutch siege maps exist from 1590-1608. All depict the Dutch recapture of border cities from Spanish forces during the Eighty Year’s War (1568 – 1648). During the Twelve Years’ Truce (1609 – 1621) the Dutch government began to commission survey maps of their territories in order to define the geographic borders of the new republic. In addition to publishing and engraving the images for Historiael Journael, Berckenrode participated in making some of these siege and survey maps. (Link to siege map below.)

The Dutch Republic established their independence from Hapsburg Spain in 1581, but it was not formally recognized until the war ended in 1648. The war was happening on several fronts at home and abroad. During this interim period, maps were important tools for cultivating a Dutch identity that positioned itself against the United Spanish and Portuguese Crowns. The original aims of Historiael Journael, as explicit pro-Republic and anti-Iberian and anti-Catholic propaganda, were covered up by De Bry’s alterations of both the map and accompanying text. For example, Berckenrode’s homophone between Zelon and Zeeland  in the spelling of the map’s title misses its mark in De Bry’s version, because the contextual information has been removed. The overt political intentions of the original map and volume were edited out by De Bry, because he sought to target both Catholic and Protestant books markets across Europe. In other words, his attempt to publish a neutral travel narrative was in the service of profit. The popularity of Historiae Indiae Orientalis over Historiael Journael concealed the fact that the original narrative, maps, and images were a crucial part of the Dutch Republic’s strategy to develop a national identity using printed, cartographic propaganda.

Danielle Gravon

Image Links:

Historiael Journael has been digitized by the University of Amsterdam and can be accessed on Google Books. The original map can be found between page numbers 28 and 29: goog.gl/yVKG7c

Link to other digitized images of Historiae Indiae Orientalis from the John Rylands Library: goo.gl/jZXxq1

Link to example of one of Berckenrode’s siege maps in the British Museum: goo.gl/keZDe4 

Further Reading: 

Joris Van Spilbergen, Journal of Spilbergen: The First Dutch Envoy to Ceylon 1602, trans. and ed. K D Paranavitana (Colombo: 1997).

RL de Silva and WGM Beumer, Illustrations and Views of Dutch Ceylon 1602-1796: A comprehensive work of pictorial reference with selected eye-witness accounts, (Leiden: Brill, 1988).

Kees Zandvliet, ed., Maurits’ kaart van Rijnland en omliggend gebied door Floris Balthasar en zijn zoon Balthasar Florisz. Van Berckenrode in 1616 getekend (Alphen aan den Rijn: Canaletto, 1989).

Helmer Helmers, ‘Cartography, War Correspondence and News Publishing: The early Career of Nicolaes van Geelkercken, 1610-1630’, in News Networks in early modern Europe, eds. Joad Raymond and Noah Moxham (Leiden: Brill, 2016) 350-374.

Kees Zandvliet, Mapping for Money: Maps, Plans and Topographic Paintings and Their Role in Dutch Overseas Expansion During the 16th and 17th Centuries (Amsterdam: Batavian Lion International, 1998).

Ananda Abeydeera, ‘Mapping as a vital element of administration in the Dutch colonial government of maritime Sri Lanka, 1658-1796’, Imago Mundi 45:1 (1993) 101-111.