DUDLEY, Sir Robert (1574-1649). Carta particolare dell Rio della Plata. Florence: 1646.
2 sheets joined (32 ¾ x 21 ½ inches, full margins showing the platemark). Fine engraved map showing the Rio della Plata in Argentina with ornate cartouche, decorated with a ship and compass rose (very light toning).
Robert Dudley's splendid Arcano del mare (Secrets of the Sea) is one of the greatest and most complex atlases of the world ever produced. Dudley's monumental work was the only exception to the total dominance of sea-atlas production by the Dutch for nearly a century. The complete work contained nearly 150 sea charts as well as dozens of illustrations and working diagrams. 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. Arcano del mare was also the first atlas to show the prevailing winds, currents and magnetic deviation. In using the projection developed by Mercator, Dudley improved upon the theory of navigating by the "Great Circle," the shortest distance between two points on a globe. It was not until the eighteenth century that cartographers used the projection consistently, and during the prolonged period when the Dutch dominated cartographic production, not one atlas was produced using it. One of the great marine atlases of all time, this magnificently engraved work is an encyclopedia of seventeenth-century knowledge regarding the seas.
Dudley was one of the more colorful and adventurous characters in the history of mapmaking. The illegitimate son of the Earl of Leicester and Lady Douglas Sheffield, but unable to establish his claim to the title of Earl of Leicester, Dudley left England in 1605. Arriving in Florence, Dudley entered the service of the Cosimo II, Grand Duke of Tuscany, as an engineer and naval commander. In 1646, Dudley published Arcano del mare, the whole written in Italian by Dudley himself. The atlas was twelve years in the making, and the main innovation lay in its conception of a world atlas of charts, both general ocean charts and detailed surveys, covering all the rival spheres of European dominion: Spanish, English and Dutch. Dudley's sources included the original charts of Henry Hudson, and for the Pacific coast he used the observations of Henry Cavendish, the third circumnavigator of the globe (and Dudley's brother-in-law). Aesthetically, the distinctive character of Dudley's charts was due to the Italian Baroque engraving, executed by Antonio Francesco Lucini.
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