DE L'ISLE, Guillaume

L'Amérique Septentrionale

Guillaume De L'Isle
Size : 54 x 77 cm
Color : Original colors
Condition : Marginal crack at the central fold
Technique : Copper engraving
Reference : CPV-45-103

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This important map that marked the cartography of North America by correctly positioning the mouth of the Mississippi River.

The 18th century was an ear marked by French cartographers who demonstrated an exemplary incorporation of scientific data and decorative enhancements in their maps. In 1700, the father and son duo Claude and Guillaume De L’Isle published the first state of this landmark map. It extends from California in the west to the Azores Islands in the east, and from Greenland in the north to a part of Souther America. It is elegantly embellished with a large richly illustrated title cartouche by Nicolas Guérard. However, it was the second state of this map that secured its place in history when De L’Isle correctly positioned the mouth of the Mississippi River.

Burden explains: 

“… the first state bears significant differences throughout the entire Mississippi valley. It was in 1984 that the world at large was made aware of the existence of the true first state; it was found in a composite atlas in a private collection in Austria. This atlas bore the first states of each of the five significant maps of the Americas published by De L'Isle. Once we were aware of its existence others were located; today we know of five examples. 

Claude De L'Isle is also believed to be the author of a letter addressed to Cassini about the mouth of the Mississippi River. In it he describes how in his new map the mouth of the Mississippi is placed 5° east of the Rio Bravo. This is so on the first state but is altered to go on the second state. He cites his authorities to indicate that he had studied Chrestien Le Clerc's narrative of Sieur La Salle's travels and the writings of Father Louis Hennepin. He also had to hand material from Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville's voyage of 1698-99. This included a map of the coast and two letters. Along with another map by M. De Chateaumorand all indicated the mouth of the Mississippi was about 100 leagues east by north-east of the Rio Bravo. On the printed version the identification of the Mississippi as the Spanish Rio Escondido, present on the manuscript of 1696, is removed.”

The main cartographic changes were recorded between the first and second state of this map, both published during the year 1700. De L'Isle relied on the accounts of Pierre le Moyne d'Iberville, who had been ordered to command the voyage by the then Minister of the Navy, Louis Phélypeux, Comte de Pontchartrain. Iberville's main mission was to establish a colony on the Mississippi River, which would allow the French to take control of this vast waterway. He returned to France on May 4, 1699 after building Fort Maurepas in Biloxi Bay. He then came back Biloxi Bay  in December and built Fort Iberville. On July 4 of the same year, De L'Isle received his first correspondence on the Iberville expedition. He also has a copy of the handwritten journals of d'Iberville and Pere Anastase (Delanglez, 1943). The information De L'Isle derived from these sources was not included until the second state of this map, when the author regraded a section of the U.S. coastline on the Gulf of Mexico to include the Mississippi Delta.

Sources agree that this map is the first to depict California in its true peninsular form, but Burden asserts that this is not the case. While California appears in its familiar form, it is still not connected to the mainland. Florida has been positioned far to the west of its true position, it should have been aligned with the Great Lakes which have been depicted here based on correct longitudinal measurements, as has most of Canada. This map is also the first to show the "Sargasso Sea" in the Atlantic Ocean.

Seven states of this map have been recored, cartographic changes appeared mainly on the second state as mentioned above. Later states showed  alterations on the title imprint, where the author's address was modified several times. The present example is the 7th state of this map published in 1718, where the phrase "Prem. Geographe du Roy" after Guillaume De L'Isle acquired the title during the same year.

References: Burden [761] ; Delanglez, J. (1843) "The Source of Delisle Map of America, 1703". Mid America, vol. 25.

DE L'ISLE, Guillaume

Guillaume Delisle (de l'Isle) (1675-1726), is one of the greatest figures of French cartography. The eldest son and pupil of the historian and geographer Claude Delisle, he entered the Academy of Sciences in 1702 to study with the astronomer Jean-Dominique Cassini. He taught geography to the young Louis XV and was the first to receive the title of Premier Géographe du Roi in 1718. Delisle is considered to be at the origin of modern cartography. One of Delisle's main contributions was to make a transition from the decorative maps of the Dutch school to a more scientific approach. He removed the ornamental elements and based his cartography on all available information. Throughout his life he constantly updated his collection of over 100 maps to reflect new discoveries. Thus, his maps give a precise overview of the state of geographic knowledge at the time. Delisle’s was the first to correct the longitudes of America, to discard the well-established fallacy of California as an island, to delineate the Mississippi Valley correctly and to introduce many new name places.