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Untitled 17th Century map of France

  • Author: Anonymous
  • Engraver: Johani
  • Date: c1659-1660
  • Dimensions: image: 43.5 x 30.5 cms / sheet: 53 x 41.5 cms


A remarkable mid 17th Century map of France with symbolic allegorical scenes & the figures of Cardinal Mazarin & Louis XIV

About this piece:

Imprint[ll]: Johani incidit.

Copperplate engraved map. The entire image trimmed just within plate mark and expertly & invisibly remargined with old paper all round. Small triangular area of paper loss ( max 4 cms x 2.5 cms) to left side at sheet edge, affecting sea area off Western France, expertly reinstated with old paper & manuscript replacement of missing lettering to three printed words ([Bri]aye, [Bell]e Isle, [Si]nus Oceanus). Additional verso repairs and reinforcements to original central fold, without loss, virtually invisible to eye on recto image. Fine modern hand colouring.

The origins of this seemingly very rare and extremely unusual map are bibliographically obscure and the lack of any pertinent publishing information on the map itself has made it extremely difficult to identify.

One single typographical feature that can be discerned is the name of the map’s engraver, whose imprint appears in the lower left corner of the plate: Johani incidit, a name which, as yet, we have been unable to trace.

The map itself is a remarkable allegorical work, replete with rich visual symbolism and metaphor. Interpreting the allegorical imagery within the map, a tentative publication date of 1659-1660 seems plausible, as the map appears to reference the signing of the Peace of the Pyrenees (November 1659) and the ending of protracted war with Spain along France’s south-western frontier. It is interesting to note that several towns and settlements, including Aleth, Leucate, Guarde (La Guardia) & Rabesantia have been added along the Catalan coast as part of France, these being settlements permanently claimed by France when the region (Roussillon) was formally ceded by Spain to  under the final terms of the Pyrenees Treaty.

The map of France forms the backdrop to the engraving, extending from Treport in the north to the Mediterranean coasts of Liguria in the South.

Central to the engraving is the striking full length figure of the French Chief Minister, Cardinal Mazarin [1602-1661], represented in full red cardinal robes with jewelled crucifix, lace surplice and biretta. With his right hand he places a crown of laurels upon the head of a kneeling female supplicant, the personification of Peace (?), who kneels along the line of the Pyrenee Mountains, France’s south-weastern border, her gaze cast downwards at the pages of an open book, upon which Mazarin appears to place the tip of his right foot, almost possessively. The book’s pages are lined with sections of tightly written text, perhaps the detailed individual terms of the finally drafted Peace Treaty, which was concluded on November 7th 1659 at Pheasants Island on the Franco-Spanish border between the two chief ministers of France and Spain, Cardinal Mazarin and Don Louis de Haro.

To the left of the kneeling supplicant, a further group of female figures each wearing a laurel crown sit in line, one fingering a large harp. Behind them, another classical figure holds aloft an armillary sphere, whilst another can be seen spouting forth a series of numerical digits (1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10) in an unusal speech bubble. These appear to be allegorical representations of Music, the Arts, Mathematics and the Sciences, important elements of contemporary French society and traditional recipients of royal patronage. Indeed amongst the figures, somewhat lost in the background throng, and in a distinctly “backseat” position, can be seen the seated figure of the young Louis XIV, now aged 21,  also wearing a laurel crown and attired in long classical gown, the famous motif of the golden sunburst, with which he would become so closely identified (le roi soleil), here prominently displayed upon his chest.

With his right hand, Mazarin points to the East, a prominent group of three French military generals, Marshals of France, standing at his side, one of them almost certainly Turenne, each in full armour, with coloured sashes, plumed helmets and attired in especially flamboyant high leather boots. Beyond them are & besieged or burning citadels and towns. The scenes very probably reference the violence and hostilities witnessed across much of central and Western Europe, the s0-called Thirty Years War, which had been concluded only a decade earlier at the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. Equally they may reference the more recent internal hostilities within France known as the Fronde [1648-1653], a bitter civil war which had left France and her monarchy close to political collapse. The image also conveys the very clearly the contrasts between War (to the right of the engraving) and Peace (and stable monarchical government with all its benefits) to the left.

Furthermore the imagery conveys an even clearer & more instructive message to the viewer: It is Cardinal Mazarin, Chief Minister, who has safeguarded the French nation through these recent times of conflict and hostility and finally brought lasting Peace & security.

Two years, later, on Mazarin’s death in 1661, Louis would finally take over the reins of government in person and declare that he would in future rule without a Chief Minister. As he announced at the time:

“Up to this moment I have been pleased to entrust the government of my affairs to the late Cardinal. It is now time that I govern them myself. You [he was talking to the secretaries and ministers of state] will assist me with your counsels when I ask for them. I request and order you to seal no orders except by my command . . . I order you not to sign anything, not even a passport . . . without my command; to render account to me personally each day and to favor no one”.

In its imagery and allegory, this map vividly conveys the power and authority that rested in the hands of Chief Minister Cardinal Mazarin during this crucial & troubled period of French history, in the years immediately prior to Louis XIV’s  personal assumption of power in 1661.

An exceedingly rare and fascinating map, which deserves additional detailed study and further research into its origins.