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Gas Balloons, Continental Maps and an 18th Century Armenian Engraver

(The following is a post by Khatchig Mouradian, Armenian and Georgian Area Specialist, Near East Section, African and Middle Eastern Division.)

It took four years (1784-1787) and six maps for engraver Father Elia Endasian (Եղիա Էնտազեան) to make an indelible mark on Armenian cartography. Endasian’s peers described him as a tall, soft-spoken, “adroit and hardworking” (Djemdjemian, 28) member of the Armenian Catholic Mkhitarist Congregation, a beacon of knowledge and education for Armenians since its founding by Mkhitar of Sebastia (Sivas) in 1700.

Working among the Mkhitarists at the San Lazzaro degli Armeni Monastery in Venice, Italy in the second half of the 18th century—the period when the Mercator map projection was broadly adopted—Endasian engraved a world map (Համատարած աշխարհացոյց) in 1784 that employed the Mercator projection, a first in Armenian cartography.

For someone who revolutionized Armenian map-making, we know precious little about Endasian. His work tells us that he was a keen follower of the scientific advances of his time. In 1785, less than two years after the first manned, untethered hot air balloon and hydrogen balloon flights, he published a 16-page monograph titled Համառօտ պատմութիւն օդապարիկ գնտոյ (“A Brief History of the Gas Balloon”). The booklet opens with a beautiful, full-page engraving of the hydrogen-filled balloon that carried its inventor Jacques Charles and his copilot Nicolas-Louis Robert 15 miles—from Jardin des Tuileries in Paris to Nesles-la-Vallée on December 1, 1783. The engraving includes a small map of the hydrogen balloon’s trajectory. Endasian’s booklet was a hit in Constantinople, where 600 copies were sold in just 20 days.

Endasian’s next endeavor was a four-map set (Africa, America, Asia and Europe), which he completed in 1786 and 1787. The continental maps, prepared “according to new geographic observations” as their titles proclaim, reflected the knowledge of the period’s European cartographers and the ways in which they conveyed it, including pictorial representation of points of interest, as well as other beautiful engravings. (The hydrogen balloon has a cameo in his Europe map.) They also drew on the tradition of geographic works by the Mkhitarists.

Detail of a printed Armenian map.

Detail of Endasian’s Europe map (1786). Europia, ěst nor ashkharhagrakan znnutʻeantsʻ: pʻoragreal i Vēnētik i Vans Srboyn Ghazaru i tʻuis merum 1235.  Library of Congress Geography and Map Division.

The Library’s African and Middle Eastern Division carries a wealth of materials published by the Mkhitarists, including books on science, philosophy, history and culture. Some of these publications, such as the multi-volume world geography by Father Stepanos Agonts, published in 1802-1805, feature drawings by Endasian.

A few hundred copies of the four-map set Endasian engraved were printed over the years, often also colored (the demand for colored maps was higher), and shipped to Constantinople for sale. One order in November 1789 was for 60 sets to be shipped to Constantinople, according to the congregation’s records. (Djemdjemian, 34)

While still working on the four-map set, Endasian also completed a map of the Ottoman Empire (Լայնածաւալ Տէրութիւն Օսմանցոցն) in 1787. Two thousand copies were shipped to Constantinople in 1788.

Endasian had engraved his maps in declining health. On March 5, 1789, Endasian died in Varaždin (modern-day Croatia), where the congregation’s Abbot had sent him to recover.

The Geography & Map Division recently digitized Endasian’s maps of Africa and Europe. A few years earlier, it had digitized those of Asia and America, the latter a colored map. These high-resolution scans now spread Endasian’s legacy to the four corners of the world—a fitting tribute to a man who lived to bring the four corners of the world to people.

Learn more:

Rouben Galichian, “History of Armenian Cartography up to the Year 1918,”Yerevan: ZANGAK Publishing House, 2017.

Sahak Djemdjemian, “Kʻartisagrutʻean dprotsʻ mě S. Ghazaru mēj ZhĚ darun” (A School of Cartography at St. Lazzaro in the 18th Century],Venice: St. Lazzaro, 1981.

S. Stepanyan, “Hay Kʻartezagrakan Hratarakutʻiwnnerě 260 Tarum (1695-1955)” (The Armenian Cartographic Publications over 260 Years,1695-1955),Yerevan: Academy of Sciences, 1957.

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One Comment

  1. Laporte
    August 7, 2021 at 1:24 pm

    Great job!! well done
    Dr Sarah Laporte-Eftekharian

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