Universal Atlas of Fernão Vaz Dourado

Universal Atlas of Fernão Vaz Dourado Map No. 10. Canada
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Map No. 10. Canada

In the oldest existing description of the chart, Varnhagen stated: “The chart on the fifth folio provides key clarifications and due grounds for arriving at conclusions about the Portuguese discovery of and presence along the coasts of North America”. Portuguese historiography resorted to Vaz Dourado’s images to repeat the words of the aforesaid Brazilian researcher. In the late nineteenth century, Ernesto do Canto analysed the list of toponyms along the coasts shown in the charts to yet again confirm that the Portuguese were the first to explore North America.

This map depicts the modern day territories of Eastern Canada and North-Eastern USA, with a greater concentration of information around Newfoundland and the vast St. Lawrence valley, the main means of penetrating the interior of the continent. Newfoundland had long been known to the Portuguese due to its importance as a cod fishing ground and hence the reference in the map’s title to the “codfish coast”.

Although the Tordesillas meridian is not depicted, the map is based on the principle that it would have dissected the space portrayed therein: the Spanish dominions to the west and Portuguese dominions to the east. This explains the presence of a shield with the coat of arms of Castile/Aragon, located approximately on the modern day state of Maine (USA) and another shield with the coat of arms of Portugal situated north of the St. Lawrence River, in the “Land of Labrador”. Finally, south of the St. Lawrence, the caption “Land of the Corte-Reals” recalls the arrival of the Corte-Real brothers in 1501. Flags with the cross of the Military Order of Christ can be seen on the Magdalen islands in the centre of the Gulf of St. Lawrence and on the southeast tip of Labrador. To the east the words “Ocean Sea” occupy a large portion of the map.

Max Justo Guedes made the following comment with regard to this map’s importance in terms of international cartography, in the context of Vaz Dourado’s work: “The most interesting points of this vast work (…) are related to North America. In the northeast, Dourado followed the French-Portuguese prototype derived from the discoveries by Jacques Cartier which had first been presented by the anonymous author of the so-called Vallard atlas, but he used the drawing by Diogo Ribeiro – and subsequent modifications – for the Atlantic contours.”

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

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