John Speed, A Prospect of the Most Famous Parts of the World (London, 1627). Engraving with hand-colouring, 43 x 55 cm. The University of Melbourne Map Collection, Melbourne.

If the early modern is defined as an age of accelerating contact, colonization, travel, trade, and exchange, this map of Asia by the English cartographer John Speed (1552?-1629) is a textbook artifact. It was printed in London in a series published as A Prospect of the Most Famous Parts of the World. It has been signed by the engraver Abraham Goos at the bottom centre: ‘Sculptum apud Abrahamum Goos.’ Another inscription records that the map was to be sold in London by George Humble in his shop in Popes Head Alley, near the present Bank of England.

On the one hand, the construction of Asia pictured here can be traced back to European Antiquity. It begins at the Mediterranean and encompasses everything to the east, northeast, and southeast. Yet the map also incorporates information from contemporary travel accounts, trade ventures, maps, costume books, and other printed sources, and was itself a product of commercial and intellectual contact and exchange.

The links to seventeenth-century travel and trade can be seen most directly in the eight views of Asian cities along the top edge and the ten costumed figures along the sides, which provide a pictorial gloss on the geography. They are roughly grouped not only by region but also by date of European awareness or contact, from ancient history into the seventeenth century commercial world. Apart from Jerusalem, all the cities pictured were major ports of seventeenth-century trade: Damascus, Hormuz and Aden on the Persian Gulf, Goa in southern India, Candy (Sri Lanka); Bantam (now Banten) in Java, and Macao on the South China Sea. These city views came mostly from a single source, the Civitates Orbis Terrarum of Georg Braun and Frans Hogenberg, first published in 1572.

Most of the costumed figures can also be linked to major trade communities. From the top left, they are: an Assyrian woman, an Arabian man, an Armenian woman, a Sumatran man, and a ‘Balaguatan,’ — an inhabitant of Balaghat, the state around the port of Goa. Along the right, the rough grouping by time and space reverses: a Javan man, a man from the Moluccas, a ‘Chinean’ man, a ‘Moscovian’ woman, and a Tartarian, or Mongol. The original sources for the costumed figures were diverse. They included Hans Weigel’s Habitus praecipuorum populorum (1577); the prints of Sebastian Vrancx, known as the Variarum Gentium Ornatus, and a single figure (the Tatar) from Enea Vico’s Diversarum gentium nostrae aetatis habitus (Venice, 1558).

The maker of this map, the cartographer John Speed was an artisan scholar, and very much a figure of the early modern age. He trained as a tailor, but he was also an antiquary, geographer, and historian, best known now as the author of The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britain, a collection of maps published in 1611. Speed issued the Prospect with a reissue of Theatre, linking the national and the world, and this two-part work continued to be reprinted long after his death.

The Prospect is considered the first world atlas to be created by an English mapmaker, but like many in the series, Speed’s Asia map is actually based on an earlier model, in this case a map of Willem Jancz Blaeu of Amsterdam, issued in 1617. The Dutch inscriptions have been translated and truncated in some cases to fit, but otherwise retained; Speed also cut one of Blaeu’s cities (Calicut) and only included one of each pair of Blaeu’s costumed figures. Blaeu had in turn depended closely on the Atlas of Mercator published by Jodocus Hondius, who is also credited as the first to add small vignettes of cities and figures to the borders of such maps. Hondius was one of Speed’s early collaborators when he lived in exile in London from 1584 until 1593, and the engraver Goos worked in the Hondius shop. Reusing the plates was a cost-saving measure in a commercial venture, but this map is also therefore a record of a series of friendships in a relatively small community of amateur merchant-scholars.

Professor Anne Dunlop