Nova et accurata poli Arctici

Read the Transcript
This is a map by Jan Jansson entitled “Nova et Accurata Poli Arctici.” It is a map of the top of the world. As we have already seen in map IV-30, the de L’Isle map of the northern hemisphere, there have been lots of different understandings of what the top half of the Earth looks like. This one, having been done in 1642, is considerably less finished – less full of understanding – than those that followed. One can see lots of wonderfully intersecting rhumb lines.[1] Now, however, because we are at the top of the Earth and all of the rhumb lines have to meet at the North Pole, there is a marvelous concatenation of lines gathering as one gets closer and closer to the center–the North Pole.

Again, we see, both the top of North America, the top of Europe, and the top of Asia, as it was then, as they each were then understood, all quite uncertain. Of the cartouches[2], and there are, there’s one in the upper-portion and one in the lower-right are wonderfully imaginative. Winds are blowing from various faces. And in the lower-right we have a marvelous combination of two explorers, a polar bear, and what look like two foxes perhaps, or a fox and a deer – some of the wildlife that might have been discovered or seen up in that northern reach.

When compared with still earlier versions of the North Pole, others of which are in the Villanova collection, we get a wonderful series of views as man’s understanding of the northern parts of the world became better and better. It might be said, however, that as our accuracy improved, the colorfulness of the various depictions declined. And I still have a great fondness for these maps in the 1600s and the 1500s which tell their own wonderful story however mythological they might be.

[1] “In navigation, a rhumb line […] is an arc crossing all meridians of longitude at the same angle, that is, a path with constant bearing as measured relative to true or magnetic north.” Wikipedia,
[2] “Cartouche, in architecture, ornamentation in scroll form, applied especially to elaborate frames around tablets or coats of arms. By extension, the word is applied to any oval shape or even to a decorative shield, whether scroll-like in appearance or not.” Encyclopaedia Britannica,



For more details, view the catalog record: