Accuratissima Brasiliae tabula

Dublin Core


Accuratissima Brasiliae tabula




This map, Accuritissima Brasiliae tabula, was created by Johannes Janssonius Jr. (1588-1664), known in the English language as Jan Jansson, in approximately the year 1636. This map shows a well labeled, however geographically inaccurate, depiction of the north-eastern section of the country Brazil. It is a beautiful piece of art, hand coloured and containing many small illustrations meant to depict the conditions of Brazil and its surrounding “Mar del Nort”. All titles and labels are written in Latin. This map was a product of the Dutch “Golden Age”, which was a period roughly spanning the 17th century during which Dutch trade, military, art, and cartography were highly acclaimed throughout the world.
The author of this map was a renowned cartographer of his time, and was in constant competition with rival Joan Blaeu. While Blaeu was developing his Atlas Major, which is a comprehensive set of maps of the entire world and is recognized to be the most opulent atlas ever made, Jansson was developing the Atlas Novus, which encapsulated six volumes within which the map Accuritissima Brasiliae tabula was housed.


Jansson, Jan


Amstelodami [Amsterdam]




Korryn Garvey


Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 License


Full-sized digital item can be found in McMaster's Digital Archive at:


1 hand coloured map, 38 x 49 cm, on sheet 54 x 62 cm








South America--Brazil

Still Image Item Type Metadata

Original Format

Paper map

Physical Dimensions

38 x 49 cm, on sheet 54 x 62 cm

Contributor's Research

Within the rear page content description for the book Mapping: Ways of Representing The World by Daniel Dorling and David Fairbairn (1997), the first sentence states “Maps tell us as much about the people and the powers which create them, as about the places they show.” This is saying that a map such as Accuritissima Brasiliae tabula not only shows us the geography of Brazil (or what it was understood to be in the 17th century), but it also tells us about the author, Jan Jansson, and the time era in which he created it.
At first glance, with no background information about this map, it seems obvious that this map is a few hundred years old based on its style and relative geographical inaccuracy. The inaccuracy, however, is quite impressive given the technology available during the 17th century. There were no satellites to orbit the globe and no electronic devices to complete complicated calculations. When superimposed onto a modern map of Brazil without any manipulation, main features of Jansson’s map can be distinguished on the modern map, such as mountains, forests, and shorelines, regardless of its imprecision. Through the georectification of this map onto the geographically accurate world map, one can observe that the general shapes of the land are accurate and fitting.
The minimal inaccuracy of this map and the hundreds of other detailed maps created by Jansson are what permitted him to be a highly acclaimed cartographer of his time. He was a leading cartographic figure of the Dutch Golden Age, but this did not come without resistance. In fact, the houses of Hondius, Jansson and Blaeu commanded the commercial market of cartography during this century. Therefore, there was great competition among them. Jansson fortunately entered into this profession by marrying the daughter of the renowned cartographer Jodocus Hondius, thus connecting the houses of Hondius and Jansson. After two decades of amateur mapmaking funded by his father-in-law, Jansson entered into a mutual partnership with Hondius and began developing highly acclaimed maps together, and eventually independently.
The 17th century was a colonial period where European countries were still exploring lands and claiming them for their own, so mapmaking was essential in helping the world powers in their ability to control people, lands and routes. A good map can increase the efficiency of military in conquest and exploration. Jansson had the talent and drive to develop world maps as were needed, and the added competition of rivals pushed him to create hundreds of elaborate and useful maps.
However, most historical texts refer to Jansson as the second best behind Blaeu. In fact, in the book Mapping the World by Michael Swift (2006), Jansson is not even listed on the large list of “Major Figures in the History of Mapmaking”, in which Blaeu is notably mentioned. Throughout several decades they were in constant competition, each evading second place every few years by publishing a new volume, and this lasted from 1635 – 1655, when Blaeu seemingly came out as victor with a more complete world atlas.
Nonetheless, Jansson was still a front running and created many exquisite maps with detailed drawing and colouring, not only of land, but also of the “waterworld” and of the “antique world”. While he is not recognized for creating any uniquely new styles of maps, he and his family are a proponent of the lavish map decorations that depict individuals and landscapes, placed in a border so as not to detract from the map. Strangely enough, Jansson’s map of Brazil does not follow these guidelines, however, it must be noted that this map was created in 1636. While this date was 20 years into his mapmaking career, it marked the early stages of his great influence in the cartographic community, which spanned from about 1935-1955. Thus, it follows that he had yet to craft his notable decorative borders into his maps.
Looking at this map, although it doesn’t sport the common decorative border of the 17th century map, it has a multitude of illustrations that exhibit how South America was perceived by Europeans in the 17th century. Since the “discovery” of America in 1492, descriptions of the savage people and wild environment found there were brought back to Europe to satisfy the demand for exciting, foreign stories. For hundreds of years, the American people were described as nude savages who engaged in cannibalism, and did not have a desire for education or knowledge. Mapmakers during this time often illustrated their maps with layouts of savage and wild scenes. Therefore it is fitting that this map has illustrations of sea monsters off the coast, vast empty lands of mountains and trees, people eating other people, and primitive-looking accommodations.
In Joan Blaeu’s map of Brazil created in 1642, more land area is shown and there are no illustrations within the map or within the borders. While the lack of decorative border comes somewhat surprisingly, the lack of illustrations within the map is fitting, as this was the time that mapmakers began to believe that they caused distraction from the overall purpose of the map. Both Jansson and Blaeu’s map of Brazil, however, have fancy cartouches around the titles of the map, and they demonstrate heightened relief with deeper shading as compared to maps of the decades early, as was common in the 17th century. According to R.A. Skelton in Decorative Print Maps of the 15th – 18th Centuries (1956), “that maps should please the eye has been accepted even by scientific cartographers.” Thus, the cartouches, illustrations, and colours on Accuritissima Brasiliae tabula have likely been added to please the eye of the observer as well.
Thus, while the main purpose of this map is basically to say “This is Brazil, this is what it looks like from above,” this map is able to get across much more information regarding Jan Jansson and the Golden Age.


Dorling, Daniel, and Fairbairn, David. Mapping: Ways of Representing The World. Dorchester: Henry Ling Limited, 1997. Book.

Glaser, Lynn. America on Paper: The First 100 Years. Philadelphia: Associated Antiquaries, 1989. Book.

Koeman, C. K. Joan Blaeu and his Grand Atlas. London: Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, 1970. Book.

Riffenburgh, Beau. The Men Who Mapped the World. London: Carlton Books, 2011. Book.

Short, John Rennie. The World Through Maps: A History of Cartography. Richmond Hill: Firefly Books, 2003. Book.

Skelton, R. A. Decorative Print Mas of the 15th-18th Centuries. London: Spring Books, 1956. Book.

Swift, Michael. Mapping the World. Edison: Chartwell, 2006. Book"


Jansson, Jan, “Accuratissima Brasiliae tabula,” Omeka Testbed, accessed September 26, 2017,