Nicolas Sanson

Nicolas Sanson (1600-1667) often called the Father of French cartography, was born in Abbeville where as a young man at the age of 18 he was said to have compiled his first map. For this purpose he prepared a number of beautifully drawn maps, one of which came to the attention of Louis XIII. In due course the King appointed him “ Geographe Ordinaire du Roi”.

In preparation of his major atlas, “Cartes Generales de Toutes les Parties du Monde”, Sanson employed a number of engravers, one of whom, M. Tavernier engraved important maps showing the post roads, rivers and waterway system of France (1632-34) and a map of the British Isles (1640). In all Sanson produced about 300 maps of which two of North America were particularly influential: “Amerique Septentrionale” (1650) and Le Canada ou Nouvelle France (1656). While his maps did not compare asthetically to those of his Dutch counterparts, they were valued for their geographic superiority.  After Sanson’s death the business was carried on by his two surviving sons, Guillaume who died in 1703 and Adrian who died in 1708.  His first son Nicolas predeceased him.

It is generally accepted that the great age of French cartography originated with the work of Nicolas Sanson but credit must go also to his grandson Pierre Moulard Sanson, A. Hubert Jaillot (1632 – 1712) and Pierre Duval for re-engraving his maps, many still unprinted after his death, and re-publishing them in face of strong competition from the Dutch, who continued to dominate the market until the end of the 17th century.  Gilles Robert de Vaugondy (1688-1766) and his son Didier inherited Sanson’s materials and carried on his emphasis on accuracy over decoration.

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