Universal Atlas of Fernão Vaz Dourado

Universal Atlas of Fernão Vaz Dourado Map No. 1. United Kingdom and Northern Europe
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Map No. 1. United Kingdom and Northern Europe

The image, almost divided in half by the Arctic Circle (“Circvlvs Articvs”), is dedicated to the far north of Western Europe, with Scandinavia in the centre and depicts the vast Arctic Ocean (“Mare Congelatum”) towards the north, encompassing almost one third of the upper part of the chart. Thus, from North Cape in modern day Norway to the southern tip of the British Isles, the chart portrays the Baltic Sea, the Gulf of Bothnia and the Gulf of Finland, Iceland and coasts from the North Sea to Poland and the Baltic States. It includes mythical floating islands, such as “Obrazill”, shown west of Ireland. The interior regions of the continent contain little information, merely indicating the courses of the main rivers. The names of cities and countries are distributed in a fairly confused manner.
 
An analysis of sources amongst the prototypes of Portuguese cartography, relatively overlooked with regard to European spaces, reveals some similarities in terms of the drawings of the coasts – the entrance to the Baltic, the British Isles, Iberian Peninsula, Strait of Gibraltar –between this image by Vaz Dourado and the nautical chart attributed to Lopo Homem, dating from c. 1550, preserved in the collections of the National Library of Portugal. It would be opportune to extend this analysis to production outside Portugal in order to identify other influences.
 
One of the points of interest of this chart is the heraldry portrayed on European regions and countries. Two points need to be clarified: one about the British Isles and the other about the Scandinavian kingdoms. The St. George cross is shown over England and Ireland, which indicates that the latter had been occupied by the former. In the case of Scotland, physically separated from England by a channel, one finds the St. Andrews cross, since James VI Stewart, the future James I of England, was then governing an independent kingdom (1567-1603). In the 1568 atlas, Vaz Dourado divided the English coat of arms over the three kingdoms. Mary, Queen of Scots, had been overthrown and imprisoned by the English just a year before.
 
Of greater interest is the possible explanation for the ostentatious Spanish coat of arms over Scandinavia, since at the time when the Atlas was made the House of Vasa was reigning in Sweden. However, for some of the European chanceries this new dynasty had usurped the throne in 1523, from Christian II (1481-1559), first king of Denmark and Norway (1513-1523) and later king of Sweden (1520-1521). Christian II married Isabella of Austria (1501-1526), sister of Emperor Charles V, and two daughters were born from this union, Dorothy, future electress palatine, and Christina, duchess of Milan and subsequently of Lorraine. The emperor’s nieces and cousins of Philip II of Spain, still alive in 1571, had not ceased to stake their claim to the Scandinavian crowns.

João Carlos Garcia
Faculdade de Letras, Universidade do Porto
(Fragment of the Universal Atlas of Fernão Vaz Dourado commentary volume) 

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