The western coast of Africa, with fitting gold highlights!

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This beautiful copperplate engraved map was published in Amsterdam around 1645, originally as part of the iconic Hondius-Jansson atlases of the 17th century. The image, heightened with hand color and gold highlights, reflects nearly two centuries of European exploration and colonization along the western coast of Africa, between modern-day Sierra Leone and Gabon.

Dozens of place names and geographic features are labeled along the coast, reflecting contemporary interest in maritime trade for luxury items such as pepper, gold, ivory, and slaves. These goods are also reflected in the regional names found along the coast, such as Malagueta (pepper), Tandt (Tooth), and Gold Coasts. Several of the locations identified along the last, such as Accra, Elmina, Fort Nassau, and Komenda, were home to some of the most notorious slave prisons of the era. Interior details are dramatically less defined, and much of the image is occupied by spurious mountain ranges and vignettes of exotic animals like lions, elephants, apes, and alligators. Lacus Guarde is labeled in the upper center, with what is likely the important trading center of Timbuktu situated on the island in the middle. Nearby is an annotation in Latin that explains the importance of the Niger to the fertility of the region, similar to the Nile in Egypt. Several crosses can be seen, though their purpose is unknown.

The inclusion of these various elements is typical of contemporary mapmaking, with many cartographers accused of experiencing Horror vacui, or a fear of empty spaces. Because geographic knowledge of the continent’s interior was so sparse, the blank space would often be occupied with vignettes, cartouches, annotations, and more. Additional decorative features are also present on the sheet, including several sailing ships and sea monsters plying the waters of the Atlantic. An elaborate title cartouche features several apes and two African figures holding gold chains, a spear, and a parrot – items emblematic of European perspectives on the local people. To the lower left, two dark-skinned cherubs carry away a large elephant tusk, another obvious representation of global trade.

Sources: National Humanities Center; Slavery and Remembrance;

Map Details

Publication Date: c. 1645

Author: Jan Jansson

Sheet Width (in): 22.1

Sheet Height (in): 16.8

Condition: A-

Condition Description: Minor repair work on the top and bottom edges of the vertical centerfold, though it is hardly discernable in the image save for a small closed tear. Some faint offsetting present and a bit of see through from the Dutch text on the verso. Attractive hand color, probably modern, with beautiful gold leaf highlights. Very good overall.


1 in stock