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UNCLOS: "hic sunt ultramar leones et dracones" | The Lopez Museum Map Collection

United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea:

“Here be dragons” is a phrase used to denote dangerous or unexplored territories, in imitation of the medieval practice of putting dragons, sea serpents and other mythological creatures in uncharted areas of maps.

The Lopez Museum Map Collection

Cartography is a fascinating field of study, especially for those unfamiliar with the great works of Claudius Ptolemy’s Almagest and Geographia, Abraham Ortelius’ Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (1570-1574), Gerard Mercator’s Atlas, and Antonio Zatta’s Atlante Novissimo, to mention a few. The centers of geographical knowledge such as Venice, Genoa, Lisbon, Cologne, Amsterdam, Antwerp, Paris, and London produced maps of great beauty, credible graphic renderings that serve as primary research material: their pictorial qualities and scientific information make them so. Ptolemy, a Greek born ca. A.D. 150 in Alexandria, Egypt, wrote the scientific treatise Geographia whose extraordinary influence on the succeeding generations of famous cartographers lasted for almost a thousand years. After Ptolemy, Gerard Mercator was the greatest name in geographical science. His atlases were clearly rendered and hand-colored and their decorations displayed finer finish. Mapmaking and the chart trade reached its zenith with the copper-plate engraving, lettering, printing, lay out, and hand-coloring of the atlases of Jacobus Hondius (1613), Willem Blaeu (1638), F. de Wit (1662), Johann Baptist Homann(1688), Robert Morden (1688), Nicolaus Visscher (1690), Carolum Allard (1710), Herman Moll (1729), John Cary (1806), and John Walker 1820), among others. All of these valuable maps from the aforementioned atlases are available at the Lopez Museum.

It is worth noting that Don Eugenio not only knew old Philippine maps, but also how to buy them. His deep interest and knowledge on the subject of early Philippine cartography came from years of tireless efforts in trying to locate them. By acquiring maps and rare books from antiquarian dealers in San Francisco, Paris, Madrid, and London, he immensely enjoyed their valuable collaboration. They determined the prices of items based on their rarity and scarcity. Several antiquarian dealers provided quaint anecdotes on how Don Eugenio used to purchase maps and rare books, which they related with grace and humor.

There is much that is rare in the map collection of Lopez Library, which offers indispensable source materials for those who share interests in Philippine geographical and cartographical studies. Concerned primarily with imparting visual information, map-makers then created brightly colored renderings of the Philippine archipelago and accompanied them with lively decorative motifs and illustrations. Some maps are attractive enough to entice even those with little knowledge about the arts of cartography. Properly stored, protected from the damage of light, atmospheric pollution, molds, and insect pests, cataloged, and arranged in chronological order, the rare maps in the Lopez Museum total 356. They serve as primary reference to the early world of Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Philippines.

The magnificent work s of European cartographers, publishers, engravers, and printers shed light on the culture and costumes of indigenous Filipinos and Southeast Asians. Since the publication of Sanson D’Abbeville’s Les Isles Philippine, 1652, map-making steadily improved to depict with astonishing exactitude the contours of the major islands in the Philippine archipelago, admirably spelling out place names. Philippine maps drawn in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were, on the other hand, oddly distorted due primarily to inadequate instruments and limited scientific information. Their embellishments were confined to the title cartouche for each map. They were plain, neat in appearance, but delight fully pleasant to the eye.

A Spanish cartographer who deserves attention is Father Pedro Murillo y Velarde, S.J.. His splendid work, Mapa de las Yslas Philipinas, was completed in 1734 with the invaluable assistance of Nicolas de la Cruz Bagay, a Filipino indio engraver and printer. Its cartouche was decorated with indios dressed in traditional costumes, exemplifying grace, lucidity and cogency. Father Murillo immediately gained recognition and his map was copied by other well-known cartographers like Alexander Dalrymple, George Lowitz, Jacques Bellin, Robert Carr, and Jean de la Harpe.

The Library possesses the rarest and only extant map that was executed in Manila. In black ink, the title reads, “Descripcion Geographica de sus Islas Filipinas, Molucas, Marianas y sus Islas adjacientes con los Nombres antiguas y modernas de algunas de ellas.” Rendered in Manila in the last decade of the seventeenth century and done in colored inks, the cartouche or title piece is decorated with two globes and in the center of which appears the initials “I.H.S.” (of the Order of the Society of Jesus). Of particular interest to students of Philippine cartography is the persistent appearance in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century maps, including in that of Fr. Murillo, of the mythical island of San Juan, off the northeast of Mindanao. Notable map-makers practiced putting this nonexistent island that they would dub “St.John” (also “St. Jean” or “St. Johannes”). No foreign cartographer or Filipino writer has made an in-depth investigation of the mythical island.

To sum up, we may say that the old maps housed in the Library remain important reference tools for the education of modern-day Philippine geographers. They also serve as visual feasts and sources of delight to the average viewers of the rare map collections.


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