The Cartographer (or the Copier?) of Nuremberg

Johann Baptist Homann, Neuer Atlas bestehend aus einig curieusen Astronomischen Mappen und vielen auserlesenen allerneuesten Land-Charten über die Gantze Welt

Published by the author’s publishing company (Nürnberg), 1710

 

„New atlas consisting of several unusual astronomic maps and many selected up-to-date maps of all the world”, that is how Johann Baptist Homann calls his work published in 1710. He is proud of the fact that his cities have been newly measured “after the Copernican principle of the moving sky”, which means that his maps are truly state-of-the-art.

Copper engraving showing Homann, who is characterised as a cartographer by the compass in his hand and the map on the table.

This was important at the beginning of the 18th century, since German cartography had not become widely known yet. The Dutch and the French were market-leaders. Homann’s publishing house, opened in Nuremberg in 1702 actually did not stand a chance of taking over their customers. After all, producing maps was expensive and potential profits were marginal. Whoever wanted to create maps, had to travel to the original locations and survey the territories themselves. Homann did not have enough money for this. Consequently he used existing maps, reworked and reprinted them. He could thus produce and sell his own maps more cheaply. It was through this strategy that Homann’s publishing house could capture a market share.

Homann also had the advantage that some of the older maps had become obsolete. Cartography had become a scientific discipline which dealt with the problem of capturing the three-dimensional surface of the earth on a flat page. The spherical shape of the earth was posing the greatest problem, as it resulted in the need for longitudes and latitudes of varying size.

 

 

 

By the way, not every “New Atlas” consists of the 60 maps registered in the index. Quite the opposite, actually. This was due to the fact that the atlas was not delivered in one piece, as it would be today, but there were individual sheets of paper. Consequently people only bought the sheets they were interested in and then put together their very own atlas according to their needs.

The buyer will undoubtedly have treated himself to the gorgeous cover picture, which brought together the classic worldview with the achievements of the modern age. The image does not show a flat earth but rather a sphere. But Atlas and Hercules are still supporting the firmament. They separate day – in the west of the occident – and night, which is above the (Turkish) orient. It is a symbolic depiction, since for the Christian Homann, darkness is where the message of his god is not heard.

In the foreground, there are Hermes with his Mercurial wand for trade and Tellus, goddess of fertile ground, who are both guaranteeing the wealth of the western world. On their left we can see Neptune, lord of the seas with his trident and Amphitrite, holding a ship in her hand.

Incidentally, cartography is not the neutral scientific field it often claims to be. On the contrary. Homan judges. For instance when he dedicates 16 maps to the Holy Roman Empire but only a single one to the Turkish Empire, which at the time greatly surpassed the Roman-German Empire. Or when he still draws an individual map for the Holy Land, which at the time was a part of the Turkish Empire.

And this eurocentrism has stayed, at least in Europe. I would quite like to see the atlas, in which the depiction of Africa takes the same space as that of Western Europe.

More maps of Homann’s atlases can be found on the website of the Heidelberg University Library.