Sunday, March 27, 2011

Ever been to Isle de Californie?


So far as we know, California has never been an island off the coast of Nevada. That didn’t stop Dutch engraver Gerard Valck from drawing it that way in 1702. It’s a good bet Valck never set foot in North America but his map clearly depicts “Isle de Californie.”

A copy of his otherwise magnificent hand-colored map of North and South America is part of the collection of rare and unusual items at Lighthouse Books, ABAA. It was printed from a copper plate engraving.

Actually, Valck probably can’t be blamed for making the original cartographic error regarding the continent’s west coast. Scholars place that goof on the shoulders of a French cartographer named Nicolas Sanson, who first showed California as an island some 45 years before Valck.

It’s likely that Valck simply did what a lot of cartographers did in those days–he copied, thus proving the wisdom of the stern edict from your kindergarten teacher: Keep your eyes on your own paper. Do your own work. No copying.

Nevertheless, Valck produced a handsome work with finely drawn cartouches in the lower corners. On the left, Dutch merchants trade with natives beneath palm trees and near a stone marker showing eight different measurement scales. On the right, natives trade with a Dutch seaman. Ships in the background carry the Cross of Burgundy flag, under which most of the provinces of the Netherlands sailed in joint expeditions.

In those days, there was still a lot of divvying up to do in the New World. Valck’s map shows a vast area in the west labeled “Nouveau Mexique", another in the south called “Floride” and an area in the north called “Canada ou Nouvelle France.”

Gerard Valck, his son, Leonardus, and his brother-in-law, Pieter Schenk, were prolific printers and engravers in Amsterdam. Valck’s name appears on numerous mezzotints from the period, many of them copies of paintings by Dutch painters. His family also produced many atlases, separate maps and printed globes.

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