Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Image of the Week 5: The Restitution of Bahia, 1631

This remarkable map was produced by the cartographer João Teixera Albernaz the Elder (d. 1662) as part of his 1631 atlas Estado da Brasil (The State of Brazil). Lavishly illustrated in watercolors, the map meticulously depicts the recapture of the city of Salvador -- the old colonial capital of Brazil -- from an invading Dutch army. The actual military expedition had taken place some six years earlier, in April of 1625, when a joint flotilla of fifty four Spanish and Portuguese ships invaded the harbor and rousted Dutch forces (helpfully labeled on the map as "Armada do Inimigo" - the enemy's armada). Teixera's decision to depict this patriotic event in 1631 may well have been significant, since the Dutch West India company was mounting a renewed assault upon Brazil in precisely this period, having conquered the key port city of Recife in March of that year.

What stands out most to me in this image is the remarkable level of attention lavished upon tiny details  -- a typical feature of seventeenth century Iberian maps, but one that is often difficult to notice since these beautiful works are so often viewable only in pixelated digital form or as blurry black-and-white reproductions in printed works. Below are some details I've picked out from the larger image:
Ortas - gardens - along the northeastern coast of Dutch-held Bahia. 

Colorful pink tents that bear an odd resemblance to contemporary cartographic
depictions of central Asian nomadic camps, but which are probably meant to
indicate the temporary shelters erected by Dutch-hired mercenaries. 

The captions to this image in the accompanying key (see main image above) tell us
that these are "casas que o inimigo derumbora fora dos muros" (houses that the enemy
built outside the walls) and "pecas que bater a cidade que assentarão os italianos"
(cannons that assaulted the city manned by Italians[?]).
And finally, a wonderful detail of two Dutch ships ablaze alongside the man of war commanded by the Portuguese captain:


The Camoes Institute website has a good (Portuguese-language) description of João Teixera and the larger Albernaz family of mapmakers here. For those interested in the Dutch conquest of Brazil and the Luso-Brazilian response, the best English-language works may still be those of Charles R. Boxer, a WWII era British naval spy turned historian of early modern maritime empires. Boxer's The Dutch in Brazil, 1624 to 1654 is the authoritative work on its subject, but is unfortunately out of print. His surveys The Portuguese Seaborne Empire and The Dutch Seaborne Empire are however widely available, and both are excellent. Finally, Boxer's The Tragic History of the Sea is a wonderful edited compilation of Portuguese narratives of naval battles and maritime expeditions.

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