Who was Sanson?

Nicolas Sanson is considered the "father of French cartography" largely on account of his emphasis on fact-based information, rather than the artistic designs of Dutch map-makers.

Born 1600 in Abbeville, France, Nicolas Sanson lived and worked in Paris on the rue de l'Arbe, St. Germain. He was geographer to the King of France from 1630 to 1665 and tutor to Louis XIV. He published numerous atlases and illustrated texts from 1618 to his death in 1667. After his death, sons Nicolas, Adrian, and Guillaume continued the business.

Sanson, often called "the father of French cartography," shows the emerging influence of scientific thinking on European map-making. We can admire early maps for their artwork and fine decoration, but at the time, they were intended for practical use much as maps are today. Hence, the desire for navigators and explorers for maps that emphasized factual information led to a demand for more informative and detailed maps, based on actual survey data. At the same time, developments in survey equipment and methods were enabling cartographers to present more accurate information. His work was renowned for its high quality of engraving and accuracy and Dutch, German, and English copied his maps for a hundred years or more.

In his depiction of Africa, however, Sanson had little additional information beyond that of the Dutch cartographers fifty years earlier. Thus we see the course of the Nile based on Ptolemy's ideas, and the continent's interior depicted with variously imaginative features; mountains, rivers, kingdoms, cities and tribes. Conforming to the more decorative approach of his predecessors, Sanson decorates his map with an elaborate title cartouche in the map's upper right corner.


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Sanson 1650 antique map

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