La Nuova Francia

A later issue of the first printed map of New England and New France.

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Though it might not be immediately apparent to a modern audience, this fascinating 16th-century woodblock map covers the North American coast between modern-day New York and Newfoundland and Labrador. The former is labeled in the lower-left as Angouleseme, with other recognizable locations are present in the form of Port Real (Newport Bay), Port du Refuge (Narraganset Bay) and Cape Breton Island.

The image is based largely on a 1548 map of the region by Giacomo Gastaldi. With a better understanding of the regional geography, the hydrological system becomes somewhat confusing, as the Hudson appears to join the St. Lawrence before continuing into the country’s interior. This depiction is the synthesis of the cartographic information provided by the voyages of Giovanni Verrazzano and Jacques Cartier, two of the earliest Europeans to explore the coastline of North America. According to Kevin Brown of Geographicus;

“The curious constriction of the coastline between Narragansett Bay and Cape Breton is the result of Gastaldi’s attempt to reconcile Verrazano’s journey with those of Cartier. Gastaldi made the erroneous assumption that the northernmost point of Verrazano’s exploration, Narragansett Bay or Port de la Refuge, was close to the southernmost point of Cartier’s voyage, Cape Breton Island, thus compressing the two and, alas, omitting Cape Cod.”

Though the geography depicted reflects serious attempts to present accurate information, the image also contains a fascinating variety of vignettes. Apart from highlighting native flora (changes in the trees are one way to identify various states of the map) and fauna, the small illustrations show indigenous peoples engaging in a variety of activities like hunting, napping, and dancing. Sea monsters and sailing ships can be found in the Atlantic, with the latter displaying emblems from both the French and Portuguese monarchies – a clear reference to colonial competition also reflected in the Portuguese coat of arms on the Labrador coast and the Fleur-de-lis on an island in the lower right (likely St. Pierre).

Also of note are the numerous vignettes that relate to fishing; including ships, fisherman casting nets, drying the catch, etc. Even an island is named after the codfish in Portuguese – Bacalaos. This relates to the predominance of the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, described by Kershaw here;

“By the mid-16th century the Newfoundland fishing banks were visited regularly by fisherman from Europe, although such crossings to the New World were largely unrecorded. The Grand Fishing Banks are denoted here by the long curved stippled “shoal” named “Isola della rena.” Rena is equivalent to the French “Sablon” and this, in turn, is Sable Island.” [Note: both words mean ‘Sand’].

The Grand Banks would remain of such importance to the French that they would include their use as part of treaty negotiations well into the 19th century. Their overseas territory of Saint Pierre and Miquelon grants them access to the coveted waters to this day.

The map was originally published in 1556 by Giovanni Ramusio in the third volume of his Navigatoni et Viaggi, one of the earliest compilations describing various voyages of discovery. Those woodblocks were lost in a fire, making the first edition exceedingly scarce. Subsequent issues were almost entirely identical and are identifiable only by slight variations in the illustrations and page numbers. This is from the last edition, printed in 1606 and recognizable by the worm damage across the nearly 50-year-old block.

Sources: Burden, 25, Kershaw 7, Verner and Stuart-Stubbs #11, Gastaldi and Ramusio’s “Nuova Francia” by Alfred Pick in THE MAP COLLECTOR No. 60,, Geographicus,

Map Details

Publication Date: 1606

Author: Giovanni Ramusio

Sheet Width (in): 16.00

Sheet Height (in): 12.00

Condition: B

Condition Description: Two offsetting spots of worming new the lower centerfold with linen tape on the verso. Faintly creased in the upper right, through Terra de Labrador. Two small spots in the upper corners, and a bit of light discoloration visible in the margins. The rest of the white spots throughout the image resulted from deterioration and damage to the original woodblock (present in all 1606 versions).

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