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Map Maker Biography: Gerard de Jode (1508 - 1591)

Gerard de Jode

Gerard de Jode 

Gerard de Jode, one of the pre-eminent sixteenth century mapmakers, was born in the ancient Dutch city of Nijmegen. His precise date of birth is unknown but is commonly stated as either 1508 or 1509. Aside from evidence that he did an apprenticeship and then became a journeyman, little is known of the early life of this talented Dutch cartographer, engraver and publisher, who is noted as also having been a book and art seller, map painter and plate printer.

Work in publishing

It is known that he was admitted to the Artists’Guild of St Luke in Antwerp in 1547 and received the right to print four years later, following which he soon became one of the most prolific and popular publishers in Antwerp. Some of his earliest work was in publishing the works of contemporary mapmakers, including Giacomo Gastaldi’s world map in 1555, Jacob van Deventer’s map of Brabant in 1558, Ortelius’ eight sheet map of the world in 1564 (before de Jode and Ortelius became competitors), and maps by Bartholomeus Musinus and Fernando Alvares Seco. His business flourished and he took on many apprentices to aid in keeping up with the demand for his various publications.

Antwerp had been a prosperous city long before de Jode’s time. Its tradesmen and explorers were already interested in the northern regions of North America during the Middle Ages when they participated in trade with Viking colonies in Greenland and Vinland [Newfoundland]. In the 15th century the Dutch became involved in walrus hunts, and in the chartering and insuring of seagoing vessels bound for Newfoundland cod fisheries. The maps of de Jode and other Dutch cartographers were important contributions to the ever-increasing annals of cartographic knowledge of the region as western Europeans expanded their commercial activities westward.

Important maps

One of his most important works is his world map, entitled Totius Orbis Cogniti Universalis Descriptio, featuring rectangular projection with insets of globes on either side of the title cartouche. It is rarely on the market and is highly sought after. His map of the Holy Land, oriented west and highly detailed with dozens of small vignettes, illustrating stories from the Bible with corresponding citations to the relevant book and verse is also highly collectible. It was published initially in the early 1570s, and due to its popularity continued to be published by his son long after Gerard’s death. In addition to his cartographic skills, Gerard de Jode was a talented artist and these illustrations for the Bible set the standard for years to come. Yet another important work of his covers Scandinavia, the Baltic and Gulf of Finland, and extends from Iceland and the Coast of Scotland to Novograd, St. Petersburg and the Norwegian Sea. The map was richly engraved by Joannes and Lucas van Deutecum, perhaps the most famous of all Dutch engravers of the period and is richly embellished with a wide variety of seagoing vessels and sea monsters.

Some of his other most collectible maps include Moscowiae (the Russian Empire), together with a map of modern day Latvia. His map of Artois is one of his rarest and embraces the area between Kortrijk in Belgium and Calais and Arras in France. An important map of southwest Asia, Asiae Novissima Tabula, includes Arabia, southern Persia, parts of India and the Maldives and Egypt. This is one of the first maps to depict the Philippines, but also one of the earliest to name Singapore, where it is called 'Cinapura'. This magnificent work starts in eastern Europe, crosses through Asia, the Pacific and even depicts part of western North America.

Despite the virtuosity of talent exhibited in the works of de Jode, when Abraham Ortelius published his tour de force ​Theatrum Orbis Terrarum in 1570, he successfully monopolized the market, and de Jode was forced to wait until 1578 to publish his own most important work, Speculum Orbis Terrarum,with its text by Daniel Cellarius. Gerard had hoped to compete with Ortelius but Ortelius’ business acumen made publishing difficult not only for de Jode by disrupting his application for a royal privilege, but for a number of other cartographers and publishers as well. By the time the privilege was finally granted, Ortelius’ work had become so popular that de Jode’s atlas did not sell well, despite the accuracy and clarity of his maps. The failure of his atlas to compete with that of Ortelius resulted in his printing only one edition of the work, compared to at least forty by Ortelius. Today de Jode’s works are scarce to rare and highly desirable to selective collectors, many of whom find his maps preferable to those of his illustrious, better-known contemporaries.

Antique Map of the World Totius Orbis Cogniti Universalis Descriptio by de Jode, 1570
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