Hondius’ Map: the centre is the “Christian Knight”?
This map, made circa 1596, is more than interesting: before all it is the result of the age when Europe began to know the world and to try to shape it after her own interest. Then the map has no centre in the “spiritual” sense of the word and no centrality on Jerusalem or Rome or whatsoever. Instead, the “central line” of the world is to the west of the British Isles and in the mid-Atlantic (In what to become the “centre” of Europe and its North American extension). The map makes it clear how scientific knowledge of the world has transformed world maps into the “banal” silhouette that we know today. Yet there are some interesting lines to draw and to speak about:
1- The map is up-to-date: the lastest geographical European discoveries are shown. We can say that scientifi knowledge is becoming by itself the centre of this generation of maps, where every line is drawn “in a scientific way”… One can wonder about centrality of the world on the Atlantic as Axis Mundi. But scientific methods, as any other method in our world, are subjective. Yet here subjectivity has taken a new shape: Jerusalem is but a city like any other one, no special treatment. In this regard Hondius’ is different from Bunting’s, his contemporary who put Jerusalem at the very centre of the constructed world, even if he was all conscious about the Great Discoveries and the geographical “reality” (Cf. “Jerusalem at the very centre of the World, Bunting’s Map and social construction” , another post on this site.)
2- The existence of a big Southern Continent or “Part of the World.” Aristotelian philosophy was one of the pillars of the European Renaissance, and it promotes the principles of symmetry: for every “weight” some symmetrical “anti-weight” has to exist somewhere in order to keep the equilibrium. Europeans by now know about the existence of lands on the Northern Hemisphere. Yet the knowledge of the Southern is still processing, and in the Aristotelian-shaped imaginary of geographers of that time a big part of the world must exist in the South in order to keep the balance of our Planet! This idea can be at the origin of what we call the antipodes today (Cf. “New Zealand, from the Antipodes to Home to Middle-earth“ ).
3- The map’s title is TYPUS TOTIUS ORBIS TERRARUM, IN QUO & Christiani militis certamen super terram (in pietatis studiosi gratiam) graphicè designatur, Which can be translated roughly to “The image of the whole World, in which asserted (for the piety of the student) the struggle of the Christian Knight.” This Christian Knight is said to be Henry IV of France. On the very Southern supposed-to-exist Part of the World, this terra incognita, he is battling forces of darkness: Vanity, Sin, Carnal Desire and the Devil! This Christian Knight, and not the rest of the geographical space, is the apparent centre and the focus of the map.
Hondius (1563-1612), born Josse De Hond in Wakken and grew up in Ghent, both in Flanders, was a staunch Protestant. The “forces of darkness” could have been, simply, the evil forces Catholic Spain was accused of exercising on Christendom. It can be that in his point of view the then-Protestant Très Chrétien king of France can be the champion of Christendom against those forces of darkness and against Spain, the state behind them!
This map, by its “scientificity”, is a precursor to our modern spatial representations of the world. It is centred on the Atlantic, a very “modern” and “objective” concept. At the same time the insertion of the Good/Evil dichotomy reveals that every map has to have at least a little bit of ideology at its centre. Is not this “Good/Evil” dichotomy still at the heart of most representations of the world today?
For further information please see:
Andrew Gordon, Bernhard Klein, 2001, Literature, Mapping and the Politics of Space in Early Modern Britain, Cambridge University Press, 276p.
Norman Joseph William Thrower, 1984, Sir Francis Drake and the Famous Voyage 1577-1580, University of California Press, 214p.
You can see the page of the map at the site of the British Museum:
The map can be downloaded, in high resolution, from the site of the Bibliothèque Numérique Caraïbe Amazonie et Pleateau des Guyanes:
Image Credit: Bibliothèque Numérique Caraïbe Amazonie et Plateau des Guyanes