‘The Arcano del Mare is the first printed English nautical atlas, and the only exception to the total dominance of Dutch sea atlas production between that of Lucas Jansz. Waghenaer, 1584, and John Seller in the early 1670s. It was superior to any previous work in that the charts illustrated the whole world, the first time any outside of Europe had been included. It was the first atlas to use Mercator’s projection throughout, and the earliest to show … magnetic deviation. Dudley improved upon the theory of navigating by the ‘Great Circle’, the shortest distance between two points on a globe. It would be the eighteenth century before cartographers used the projection consistently. During the great Dutch period not one atlas was produced using it.
The life of Dudley (c.1573-1649) was as full as his atlas. His future was determined before he was born as his father, the Earl of Leicester, was the paramour of Queen Elizabeth I of England. He was concealed at birth for fear of the queen discovering that his father had had an affair with Lady Douglas Sheffield, widow of Lord Sheffield. Even though many authorities believe and state that he was an illegitimate child, there is evidence to show that his parents may well have married in secret before notable witnesses to avoid the queen’s wrath. Being the son of a privileged elite, he received the best in terms of education, and from an early age showed an interest in marine warfare and navigation. In 1594 he led an expedition to the Orinoco River and Guiana, registering the first English attempt to occupy Trinidad. He was knighted for services rendered following his siege of Cadiz shortly thereafter.
‘At the turn of the century the queen became displeased with Dudley and he was soon trying to prove his legitimacy. Dudley abandoned his third wife and fled to France with his ‘page’, who was his disguised cousin Elizabeth Southwell. They declared themselves Catholics, married and settled in Florence at the court of Grand Duke Ferdinand I of Tuscany. Dudley’s arrival was fortuitous as the Grand Duke was trying to rid the Mediterranean of pirates and needed men like Dudley with experience in shipbuilding and naval warfare.
‘Dudley’s life work was an intense interest in the waters of the world and all that they had to offer. His manuscript atlas is largely the forerunner for the printed work and resides today in the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Munich. It is dated c.1636. The charts bear many alterations, reflecting his constant search for new knowledge. However, his judgement as to which source to use led to many errors. The published work is entitled Arcano del Mare, which literally translated means ‘secrets of the sea’, and these he often told, describing in six large parts all the various matters of navigation with plenty of illustrations. Four of them were published in 1646 when Dudley was seventy-three years old. The second bore fifteen general charts of the various parts of the world.
‘The engraver employed for the immense task was Antonio Francesco Lucini, who was born in Florence, 1605. Lucini states in the second edition of 1661 that he worked for twelve years in a small Tuscan village and used 5000 lbs of copper to make the plates. They represent the finest of Italian capabilities, the clarity of the engraving presenting an uncluttered image. Even the florid italic calligraphy, whilst fulfilling a purpose, is of the highest standard.
‘The cartographic sources used are wide and varied. His obviously high position in society gave him admission to many quarters. It is known that he corresponded with his brother-in-law, Thomas Cavendish, the third circumnavigator of the world. One authority even believed that he had access to Henry Hudson’s notes, but no evidence is known to support this. These are the first detailed sea charts of any part of North America, with only three exceptions. Both the first and second ‘Paskaert’ of Willem Blaeu covered virtually the entire Atlantic Ocean and as such were rendered on a poor scale. The third is the series of charts of the harbours of New England and New France published by Samuel de Champlain in 1613′ (Burden).
Following the death of Dudley in 1649, the large folio ‘Dell’ Arcano del Mare’ appeared in a second edition published jointly by Antonio Francesco Lucini and Jacopo Bagnoni in 1661. The former had been the engraver of all 146 large charts in the atlas. Many factors contributed to the authenticity of these new charts. The most important of these must be the discovery of three similarly sized reductions in the British Library. These were identified under Lucini, whose similarly worded imprint is present. They were found to have been in the library’s possession long enough to have had their pressmarks changed once already by 1885, when they were first catalogued. These three are of the east coast of Africa and Arabia, and are reduced from the more detailed charts found in volume six of the ‘Arcano’.
The set of fifteen charts are smaller versions of the more general ones that appeared in the second volume published in 1646. Together they show that Lucini was working on a more manageable version of the atlas that for some reason was not completed. The fact that the charts were printed two or more to a page indicates that they were most probably proof printings and that the general ones were finished first. A study of the calligraphy shows distinct similarities. Any differences in style could be argued based on the reduction and the possible time difference between both works. Watermark evidence unfortunately has not helped us in any way. The weight of evidence has proved to be sufficient to say that they would now have to be disproved.
The dating of them is based on the fact that Lucini has signed all of the plates with an honorific title ‘Caveliere’, one which he does not use in the 1661 edition of the ‘Arcano’. It is, therefore, most likely that the work followed this popular second issue, Lucini clearly seeing a market for a more manageable version. Lucini was born in 1605. It has proved difficult to ascertain the date of his death, which could provide a terminal date for the work. Another contributory factor to them remaining unfinished could be the death of Lucini’s patron, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Ferdinand II, in 1670. Refer Burden (1996) 383; Dilke (1982); Hale (1873); ‘The Map Collector’ (1991) no. 55 p. 44; The A. E. Nordenskiöld Collection (1979) no. 70; Robinson (1962); Sotheby’s, London.27 June 1991 lot 202; Temple-Leader (1895); Waters (1958); Woodward (2007) ‘History of Cartography’, vol. 3.i pp. 793-4.
Carta prima Generale della Asia