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Maps of South America

One of the reasons antique maps continue to intrigue historians and art connoisseurs is the plotting of mythological places, animals, and scenarios alongside actual terrestrial features and solid historical monuments. Maps of South America are no exception. Forays into the interior of South America were fueled by the curiosity and greed of explorers like Sir Walter Raleigh, who pursued the legend of El Dorado down the Orinoco River deep into the Amazon.

John Speed’s 1626 map of America is a classic example of this feature of early European maps. Vignettes of the indigenous people of the Americas border the detailed map. The South American portion shows the mythical Lake Parimia in Guiana, a feature that characterized maps of the region for several hundred years. The mythical lake was the Rupununu plain, which flooded during the rainy season. Herman Moll’s map of South America was created circa 1719. It reflects the interests of the British South Sea Company by unobtrusively suggesting a strategy for taking control of Spanish trade by way of the Americas. The map details access points to the Pacific, islands of refuge, and treasure ports.

These mythological and occasionally self-serving maps of South America represent striking historical ideologies and the spirit of exploration that filled the world from the 17th century onward. Despite, or because of, the misguided placement of terrestrial features, antique maps of South America are historical works of art.

Quick Facts

  • A 1592 double-page engraved map of South America by T. de Bry sold for $4,533 at an auction by Sotheby’s in 2007
  • Vincenzo Coronelli’s 1691 map of South America complete with vignettes, warlike scenes, strange animals, and the legendary Lake Parime, sold for $4,520 at Sotheby’s in 2010
  • A 1671 folio by Arnoldus Montanus with an engraved folding map of North and South America sold for $12,500 at a Sotheby’s auction in 2008

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