Title: Scherer Maps

Date: 1700

Author: Heinrich Scherer

Description: Heinrich Scherer (1628-1704) was a Professor of Hebrew, Mathematics and Ethics at the University of Dillingen until about 1680. Thereafter he obtained important positions as Official Tutor to the Royal Princes of Mantua and Bavaria. It was during his time in Munich as Tutor to the Princely house of Bavaria that his lifetime’s work as a cartographer received acclaim and recognition. Scherer’s world atlas, the Atlas Novus, first published in Munich between 1702 and 1710 and reissued in a second edition between 1730 and 1737, forms a singularly unusual, almost revolutionary work in terms of the development of European mapmaking at the beginning of the 18th Century.

The Atlas comprised seven separate volumes entitled Geographia Naturalis, Geographia Hierarchica, Geographia Politica, Tabellae Geographicae, Atlas Marianus, Critica Quadrapartita, and Geographia Artificialis. Most of the some 180 maps appear to have been prepared between 1699 and 1700 and were engraved by Leonard Hecknaeur, Joseph Montelegre or Matthus Wolfgang, with each volume introduced by fine allegorical frontispieces by the same engravers.

What makes Scherer’s maps so singular and unusual is their highly decorative Catholic iconography and imagery and the revolutionary thematic nature of many of the maps. Scherer himself was a Jesuit and many of the maps draw heavily from the history and development of the Jesuit order since its establishment by St. Ignatius Loyola in the early 16th Century when it was the driving force behind the European Catholic Counter Reformation. Scherer’s maps vividly chart the revival and spread of the Catholic faith in the late 16th and 17th Centuries principally through the efforts of Jesuit missionaries around the globe and most notably in North and South America, South East Asia and the Far East.

Where Scherer’s maps stand out from other contemporary cartographers is in the use of this vivid Catholic imagery and decoration. This is not all together surprising as the driving force in European cartography through the 17th Century had been the Protestant Netherlands. The golden age of Dutch cartography which began in the early years of the 17th Century was characterized by increasingly decorative imagery to the maps and atlases being produced, reaching its apogee in the splendid carte-a-figures works of Willem and Johannes Blaeu where the map borders incorporated views of cities and representations of the native inhabitants of each region shown. Dutch cartography tended to epitomize the development of trade and commerce, drawing its imagery from contemporary observations of far-flung places around the globe and from the great classical empires of Rome and Greece with their rich mythology - this was essentially a temporal vision of the World. Matters spiritu leanings barely featured in the imagery of 17th Century Dutch cartography.

        Scherer by contrast fills his maps with the images of vibrant religiosity, of a vital Catholic Faith of contemporary Jesuit saints and merciful Madonnas, a world divided between Darkness and Light, between the Protestant-Heathen and the True Believer, between the Chosen Sheep and the Rejected Goats. This is not surprising given Scherer’s Jesuit roots and the publication of his work in the deeply conservative Catholic Bavarian stronghold of Munich. In this imagery, Scherer took some of the first steps towards the development of what may be called thematic cartography. On many of his maps he divides the world between areas of shaded darkness and unshaded light, the latter representing the light of the Catholic faith around the globe, albeit sometimes being shown in terms of hope rather than reality. This is certainly true for example in China, an area which Scherer invariably shows as unshaded in spite of the stumbling progress and limited successes of the small Jesuit mission established in China by Matteo Ricci in the late 16th Century.

Scherer takes thematic cartography one step further in the Geographia Politica and Geographia Naturalis. He produces maps that remove political boundaries, borders and place names, replacing them with the revolutionary concept for the period of showing the mountains and forests in physical relief with all of the major waterways and rivers systems clearly depicted. Scherer may have drawn in part from the earlier influence of another 17th century Jesuit writer Athanathius Kircher, who published one of the earliest thematic maps showing the ocean currents, mountain ranges and active volcanoes of the world in his Mundus Subterraneus in 1665; and from the similar late 17th century work of the German Eberhart Werner Happel. In this respect Scherer’s Atlas forms an important milestone in the development of scientific and thematic cartography, providing a remarkable and revolutionary alternative vision of the world in showing only its major physical and topographical features.

In many other respects Scherer was more conservative, notably in terms of the cartographic content of his maps that appear to be drawn from standard contemporary sources. On all of his maps featuring North America, California is always shown as an island, albeit on a number of slightly different contemporary models. The theory of an insular California predominated on maps of the 17th and early 18th century and was derived from incomplete and inaccurate surveys of the American west coast and Baja Gulf undertaken by Spanish navigators at the turn of the 17th century. An insular California first appeared in printed form on Henry Briggs’ English map of North America published in Samuel Purchas’ Purchas His Pilgrimes in London in 1625 (#461).

       Almost contemporaneously with the production of Scherer’s maps, in 1701 the Jesuit missionary Father Eusebio Kino travelled across Northern Baja California by land, thereby disproving the insular theory. However it took another fifty years for Kino’s discoveries to receive official Spanish approbation and for this peculiar misconception to disappear from printed maps.

Another feature of his depiction of North America is the mis-location of the Mississippi river and delta some 600 miles too far to the West. This misinformation was based on the latest reports of French Jesuit missionaries in North America and first recorded by French cartographer Jean Baptiste Franquelin in the 1680s. An apparent confusion with the Rio Grande River.

Scherer’s maps are also notable the strange shape given to the islands of Japan which bears little resemblance to any other contemporary models. The only similar precursor which may have been a model for Scherer was a peculiar small map of Japan produced by Dutchman Francois Caron in his description of Japan in 1661. This latter map did show the main island of Honshu and northern island of Hokkaido joined by a narrow isthmus but with Hokkaido also forming part of the Asian mainland. On Scherer’s maps the two smaller Japanese islands of Kyushu and Shikoku are well depicted, however Honshu is shown joined by a narrow isthmus at its northern point to a bulbous-shaped northern Japanese Island of Hokkaido. This is all the more peculiar because Scherer also includes the important discoveries made by the Dutch navigator Maarten Vries undertaken during an expedition to Northern Japan and the Kurile Islands in 1643 - the first accurate European surveys of this region. Vries had actually charted the southern coasts of Hokkaido (Iezo/Iedso) to the north of Honshu and recognized that it was a completely separate landmass. He also surveyed the most southerly of the Kurile islands, which he named Staten Eyland (after the Dutch Estates General or Parliament) and Compagnies Land (after the Dutch East India Company who were the backers of the expedition). Vries had actually only surveyed the western coasts of Compagnies Land, so that its eastern extent remained unknown until the French expedition of La Perouse to North East Asia in the 1790s. Many mapmakers contemporary to Scherer believed in the possibility of Compagnies Land extending across the whole of the North Pacific to the west coast of America. Scherer however remains more cautious showing only its western coastlines.

Another peculiarity of Scherer’s maps is the continued credence given to the possibility of the Northeast Passage via Arctic Russia to Japan and the Far East - on a number of his maps this possible route is clearly marked. The important Dutch expeditions of Willem Barentsz to the Arctic Circle and Novoya Zemla more than a century earlier, in the mid-1590s, had more or less proved beyond doubt the impossibility of finding a passable north-easterly route from Europe to the Indies. By comparison, the possibility of finding a northwest passage via Arctic Canada, Hudson’s Bay is also still seriously mooted by Scherer on most of his maps - with an exit being found through the Fretum Anian [Straits of Anian] on the Pacific Northwest coast.

In many ways Scherer stands out as one of the founding fathers of the German cartographic Renaissance of the early 18th century. The power bases for this revival were to be found in the South German cities of Nuremberg, Augsburg and Munich and were represented over the next thirty or forty years by such figures as Johann Baptist Homann, Mattheus Seutter and Johann Christoph Weigel. Within twenty or thirty years of Scherer’s death, mapmaking in Southern Germany had entered its most prolific period since the late 15th and early 16th century. It also heralded a significant shift away from the old established traditional centers of mapmaking in the Low Countries and Netherlands to new, important and influential power bases elsewhere in Europe in Southern Germany, Italy and France.

Map of Asia by Heinrich Scherer, printed in ca.1703 for Scherer’s “Atlas Novus”

The map shows a bulbous Terra Jedso [Hokkaido] is attached to Honshu by a narrow isthmus and Compagnie Land is shown to the north of Hokkaido. The Caspian Sea is depicted in a curious oval shape and the whole of Central Asia is very mountainous. The map illustrates the various missions of the Society of Jesus (legend in right lower corner). Several fishes and ships decorate the seas. The stunning title cartouche features members of the various Asian races kneeling at the foot of the crucifixion, 15.5 x 10 3/4 inch (39.5 x 27.5 cm).