Atlas Miller

Atlas Miller Brazil


The chart showing Terra Brasilis covers the South Atlantic and the lands of the New World that existed there, an area that had belonged to the Portuguese since 1500, as previously defined by the Treaty of Tordesillas, signed in 1494. Although the map in question is only a portolan-chart, it is beautifully illuminated and highly decorative, showing Brazilian Indians and exotic animals. Consequently, this image is endlessly reproduced whenever the contents of this atlas, cartography or the colonisation of Brazil need to be illustrated. In fact, it is probably the most famous and most widely reproduced image of all Portuguese cartography from the so-called Age of the Discoveries.
The left half of this celebrated map shows Brazil per se, with a geographical scope that stretches from the mouths of the major rivers on the north coast to slightly south of the River Plate. The right half shows the gulf in the South Atlantic where the Portuguese vessels sailing the “India (or Cape) Route” made their customary sweeping curve to round the Cape of Good Hope. These waters are decorated with large Portuguese vessels, covering an area from the Gulf of Guinea to the southern extremities, while never actually reaching the aforementioned cape. As noted above, another map in the Atlas Miller should also have shown areas of the South Atlantic: the lost chart that was supposed to depict Africa.
The surviving, magnificent map of Brazil and the South Atlantic is evidently a hydrographic chart, as it has all the elements required to make navigation possible. However, given its sumptuous appearance, it was clearly not made for that specific purpose. Rather, the goal was purely to illustrate the geography and openly flaunt the exotic aspects through the stunning illuminated paintings of men, animals and plants that befitted a princely gaze.
The system of directions is composed of the usual sixteen rhumb lines, whose centre is located in the sea off the Brazilian coast at the latitude of Porto Seguro. The intersections of the rhumb lines are decorated with four coloured wind-roses, although the lower edge of the parchment shows two of them cut in half. Their typology is similar to the others in the Atlas Miller, with pawn-shaped indicators rather than the later fleurs-de-lis. A scale and a meridian with latitude graduations appear vertically in the right-hand border, while the equator and the Tropic of Capricorn (wrongly and surprisingly called Circulus Cancri) are included, as are other parallels, with four climate circles in the southern hemisphere.
The Brazilian coastline is densely covered with place-names, and indeed (as will be examined below), much more so than in maps from later decades. The chart also has a large main inscription in Latin which explains that the territory shown is the “great land” (magni brasilis) of Brazil, which borders the Antilles that belonged to the king of Castile. It also notes that the inhabitants are cannibals and skilled archers, that the land has many parrots and wild beasts, and that there are many brazilwood trees, which were very useful as a source of red dye.

Alfredo Pinheiro Marques
Centro do Estudos do Mar Luís de Albuquerque
(Fragment of the Atlas MIller commentary volume)

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