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Victor Lavasseur, Amérique Septentrionale, 1845, in Victor Lavasseur, Atlas Universel Illustré, Paris: A. Combette, 1845, Map #93780, Texana Foundation Collection, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.

Illustrated Cartography — Pictorial Maps at the GLO: Victor Lavasseur’s illustrated map of North America

Pictorial — or illustrated — maps typically use artistic elements to add extra information and context to improve aesthetics, and to make an impact that a map has on its viewers.

Pictorial maps have an extensive history as part of the art of cartography, and map makers have long leaned on artistry to augment the purpose of a particular map. With modern cartography dominated by CAD and digital street maps, working pictorial maps are not nearly as prevalent as they once were, but they remain popular among collectors. The extensive map archive of the Texas General Land Office contains several pictorial maps.

Victor Lavasseur’s illustrated map of North America

Victor Lavasseur, Amérique Septentrionale, 1845, in Victor Lavasseur, Atlas Universel Illustré, Paris: A. Combette, 1845, Map #93780, Texana Foundation Collection, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.

Amérique Septentrionale is a decorative atlas map of North America by French cartographer Victor Lavasseur (1795–1862).[1] Texas is included as an independent republic with the Presidio de Bejar indicated. Nacogdoches is the only other Texas settlement shown. The United States stretches all the way to the northwest of the continent and includes part of modern-day Canada. Mexico extends north all the way to the boundary set by the 1819 Adams-Onís Treaty.[2]

Amérique Septentrionale is part of Lavasseur’s Atlas Universel Illustré. The significance of this atlas is the beautiful illustrations surrounding each map. Though not known for geographic accuracy, the atlas is renowned for the beautiful artwork by French painter Raimond Bonheur (1796–1849). Bonheur divides the map into two parts — the right being a representation of the Arctic and the wilderness of North America, the left is the lush and exotic landscapes of Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean.

Detail showing the Republic of Texas and the Gulf of Mexico

On the top right-hand side of the map he paints an image of a frigid north, full of peril — as indicated by the ship stuck in the ice. Dangerous and menacing animals perch on the rocky outcrops as a deer looks on. The bottom of the vignette features the buffalo, a symbol of the American West. A fox, a porcupine, an alligator, and a jaguar highlight both the unusual and the dangerous animals of the Americas.

In contrast, the left-hand side of the image features a serene mountainous landscape with a waterfall cascading to a valley below. At the base of the hills sits Montezuma’s temple, representing Mexico. There are palm trees and tropical flora in the foreground with a pair of snakes to remind the viewer that there is danger in the jungles of the Americas.

[left] Left side illustration. [right] Right side illustration.

Three male figures interact with one another at the base of the left of the map, indicating the diverse peoples of the New World. There is an African man displaying a basket of tropical fruits to an indigenous man. A man of mixed race, in clothing that indicates he is from the Caribbean, appears to be negotiating the sale or exchange of goods.

Detail of America personified.

The long cartouche contains a population chart for the mapped area stating 34 million people inhabit North and Central America. The text block on the right explains the drawings framing the map.[3]

The Texana Foundation donated Amérique Septentrionale to the GLO in May 2015.

Please visit the GLO map store to view the pictorial maps in our collection as well as thousands of other maps and sketches. Reproductions of nearly all GLO maps can be purchased through the website, with the proceeds benefitting the Save Texas History program.

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[1] Victor Lavasseur was a French ingénieur géographe (geographical engineer) and surveyor who was most famous for his National Illustrated Atlas of France (Atlas National Illustré des 86 Départements et des Possessions de La France). For more images from the world atlas containing Amérique Septentrionale see the David Rumsey Map Collection.

[2] For more on the Adams-Onis Treaty see http://www.tamu.edu/faculty/ccbn/dewitt/adamonis.htm

[3] Translation: The top of the drawing represents the polar regions, their imposing empire of ice offering an insurmountable barrier to the activities of the navigators who want to address the question of the North Pole. In this desolate country where terrible storms reign, there are enormous mountains of ice, and the image of death often stops the vessels of intrepid sailors science has sent for this pearl. White bears, seals and whales inhabit these waters and lands where the sun’s rays hardly shine. On the Continent, the country of Lakes which intercommunicate by imposing waterfalls, sees trade of furs with the wild tribes coming along the rivers. On the other side of the drawing one sees the railroads which furrow the United States and the temple of Montezuma which represents Mexico. The vegetables and animals whose discovery by Christopher Columbus promotes a full knowledge [of the land]. Serving to beautify this map at the bottom is the the young America who rests in the middle of the luxurious vegetation of the south and its garland of islands possessed by Europeans.

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