This hand-coloured copy of The Mariners Mirrour (1588) is an English version of the world’s first sea-atlas. It contains a ground-breaking collection of charts, coastal views and directions to help sailors navigate the coastlines of Western Europe, from southern Spain to northern Norway.

The atlas, Spieghel der Zeevaerdt (1583–84), was first produced in Dutch by the master sea pilot, Lucas Janszoon Waghenaer, and translated into English in 1588 by the politician Anthony Ashley. As a sign of the book’s influence in England, the word ‘waggoner’ was used – with a nod to the Dutch author – to describe sea-atlases for several centuries afterwards.

Map-making instruments

The title page, designed by Theodor de Bry, highlights the human role in measuring and shaping the earth, seas and sky. There is a blank globe in the centre, surrounded by a crowd waiting expectantly for it to be completed. The page is filled with illustrations of instruments for map-making and sea faring, with two lively mariners standing on either side. There are lead-lines to gauge the depth of the sea; dividers and a compass for drawing charts; astrolabes and quadrants for taking astronomical measurements.

Tide tables and sea-cards

The book starts with information, charts and tide tables for map-makers and seamen, including a paper instrument with a moving inner circle for determining latitude using the angle of the stars (B2v–B3r). There are also instructions on how to draw a ‘perfect Sea Carde’ (or coastal map) using a pair of compasses (B4v–B5r). The 45 large-scale coastal views of European harbours and ports are engraved by Flemish map-makers – De Bry, Hondius and Rutsinger – and one Englishman, Augustine Ryther.

John Donne: microcosms and maps

Rich imagery of maps and microcosms often appears in the literature of this era, especially in the poetry of John Donne (1572–1631). In ‘A Valediction of Weeping’, Donne compares the tears shed by parting lovers to the ‘round ball’ of a globe, on which a ‘workman’ can lay his maps, making something from ‘nothing at all’. In ‘The Good Morrow’, the speaker contrasts the self-contained world of love with the world represented on paper: ‘Let maps to others, worlds on worlds have shown, / Let us possess one world, each hath one, is one’.