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Nicolas de Fer:The Royal Geographer

A portrait of Nicolas de Fer.

A portrait of Nicolas de Fer from Les frontières de France et des Pais Bas, Bernard, 1743. Geography and Map Division.

The French cartographer and engraver, Nicolas de Fer, was a master at creating maps that were works of art. The maps that he published were printed during the Baroque period when the decorative arts were characterized by ornate detail. De Fer’s detailed maps and atlases were valued more for their decorative content than their geographical accuracy.

Nicolas de Fer was born in 1646. His father, Antoine de Fer, owned a mapmaking firm. At the age of twelve, Nicolas was apprenticed to a Parisian engraver named Louis Spirinx. The family business was starting to decline when his father died in 1673. Nicolas de Fer’s mother, Genevieve, took over the business after the death of her husband. In 1687 the business was passed on to Nicolas and the profits increased after he took over the firm. Nicolas de Fer was a prolific cartographer who produced atlases and hundreds of single maps. He eventually became the official geographer to King Louis XIV of France and King Philip V of Spain.

One of de Fer’s major works is an atlas titled L’atlas curieux (The curious atlas). The atlas includes descriptions of cities as well as plans of churches, palaces, and gardens. The following plans of the city of Madrid, the Monastery of El Escorial, and the city of Warsaw are from L’atlas curieux.

The map of Madrid featured below includes a list of streets, gardens, and other places of interest.

A map of Madrid, Spain.

Nicolas de Fer, Madrid ville considérable de la nouvelle Castille, séjour ordinaire des Roys d’Espagne from L’atlas curieux, ou, Le monde répresénté dans des cartes générales et particulieres du ciel et de la terre, 1705. Geography and Map Division.

The following plan is of the Monastery of San Lorenzo del Escorial in Spain. An illustration of the Royal Pantheon where Spanish monarchs are buried is shown on the left hand side of the plan.

A map of the Royal Monastery in Escorial, Spain.

Nicolas de Fer, Premier plan du Monastere Royal de St. Laurens au Bourg de L´Escurial from L’atlas curieux, ou, Le monde répresénté dans des cartes générales et particulieres du ciel et de la terre, 1705. Geography and Map Division.

The plan of Warsaw featured below includes a view of the city in the lower part of the map.

A map of Warsaw, Poland.

Nicolas de Fer, Varsovie, from L’atlas curieux, ou, Le monde répresénté dans des cartes générales et particulieres du ciel et de la terre, 1705. Geography and Map Division.

The following map of the British Isles is from Nicolas de Fer’s Petit et nouveau atlas. The maps from the Petit et nouveau atlas were simplified in comparison to the detailed maps that he usually published.

A map of England and Ireland dated 1705.

Nicolas de Fer, Les Isles Britaniques ou sont les Royaumes d’Angleterre, d’Escosse et d’Irlande, from Petit et nouveau atlas, 1705. Geography and Map Division.

The celestial chart shown below was published by Nicolas de Fer. The title translates to The artificial or oblique armillairy sphere: raised on the horizon at the latitude of Paris. The images on the chart were taken from the works of Nicolaus Copernicus, Giovanni Cassini, Gabrielle Phillipe de la Hire, and other astronomers. Maps of the Sun, Moon, Venus, Mercury, Mars, and Jupiter are shown on the chart.

Nicolas de Fer died in 1720 and the family business was passed on to his sons in law, Guillaume Danet and Jacques-Francois Bernard. The firm continued to produce maps until 1760. The map below is from an atlas titled Les frontières de France et des Pais Bas. The atlas was published after de Fer’s death by his son in law, Jacques-Francois Bernard.

A map of the vicinities of Antwerp, Hulst and Axel.

Nicolas de Fer, Jacques Francois Bernard, Les Environs d’Anvers, d’ Hulst, d’ Axel, from Les frontières de France et des Pais Bas. 1743. Geography and Map Division.

I believe that the maps that Nicolas de Fer produced were not only decorative, they were also of a very high quality. He took a declining family firm and turned it into a prosperous business, and he eventually became an official geographer to royalty. The maps and plans featured in this post are a few examples of his work. My purpose in writing this post is to inform others about his contributions to cartography.



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