Polus corners of the map, epitomise these ideologies. The

Polus Antarcticus is a late renaissance depiction of the great southern land using a Mercator Polar projection. The image was co-produced by Dutch globe supplier Henricus Hondius and brother-in-law Jan Janssonius, with its first edition published in 1637 in the French edition of Volume III of Mercator’s “Atlantis Majoris” (Ross 2002.) The image was used to aid the Dutch navigator Abel Tasman in the discovery of Van Diemen’s Land and New Zealand, who’s landmasses were added in 1657. Greek geographer Ptolemy was the first to conjure into being this idea of a great southern continent, to balance the land masses of the northern hemisphere. The repercussions and subsequent ideologies of this land were long lasting and very much reflected in Polus Antarcticus, representing Terra Australis by Europeans as a land invented before it was discovered.  (Jolly and Tchrkezoff, 2009) This creation represents a fundamental need for humans to organise their understanding of the world around them, offering a sense of security and knowing. (Murray 2004) The irony of mapping the unknown is quite naturally predominant, as blank spaces inside a blank frame “generate and reflect aesthetic and anthropological anxiety” (Cosgrove, 1999) thus the need to fill in the absent spaces ensures security. Throughout this essay, I aim to present and unpick how the map, produced primarily as the tool used to order and navigate this outside world, reveals pre- Enlightenment continuing debates and Eurocentric notions and imaginaries of the great southern land (Ross, 2002.)


I explore how the idea of Terra incognita conjured into being as a new exotic space for the consumption of Imperial Europe to familiarise and normalise these spatial representations whilst reinforcing European superiority. Similarly, I will investigate how Polus Antarcticus, inherently bias, is used as an Authoritative document to proclaim an objective neutrality (Wood, 1991.) This aspect encourages (Dutch) discovery, embellishing the political and cultural opportunity at stake, as (evidently in the case of South Africa) Terra Incognita can become Terra Nullius, a space ripe for colonisation. (Schama,1988) This essay will also explore how the curators of the map exoticize this unknown land, with the large anonymous white space demonstrates a sage of moral dilemma for the Europeans to imagine an antipodal world which mirrors northern hemispherical realities, whereby men “walk on their feet” (Ryan 1994.)

We Will Write a Custom Essay Specifically
For You For Only $13.90/page!

order now


Polus Antarcticus is produced as a lens to reinforce socio-political order (Jacob, 1996). This is made possible by representing the landscape as a construction that can be read or an artefact to be interpreted. During the composition of Polus Antarcticus, rich present Imperialist Europe was in the process of building up dominance and ownership of the world. Consequentially, these exotic landscapes were constructed as a theatre to gaze, an exhibition to be presented and consumed as development seeps outwards from the European centre of civilisation. This Eurocentric understanding and visions are critical to recognising the consequential ideology of distant cultures as underdeveloped and primal. Ornate illustrations in the four corners of the map, epitomise these ideologies. The curator has been selective in the activities chosen to depict, exhibiting these exotic cultures at their most primitive. Nakedness, displays of primitive tools and behaviour such as fighting, hand feeding children, use of fire to cook is present in each scene. A fight is portrayed alongside battling mammals, depicting these primitive humans as animal-like. This is particularly relevant when we consider Ethological Assumptions were significant during the imperialistic era (Cosgrove, 2001.) This lack of sophistication is emphasised by an interruption of a sharp cylindrical shape overlaying these worlds, as European cartographic precision and skill becomes a key feature of the map.  The direct lines of the Mercator projection splay out from the center of the image, further highlighting navigational sophistication. Ornate emblems are present in centre view, separating these images. Skilled gold detailing symbolises power, rile and commerce in Western Iconographic tradition (Cosgrove, 2001.)

This also reinforces European supremacy whilst highlighting the barbarism of the naked civilisations depicted. One could argue this allows the viewer of the reader to distract and separate themselves leading to a lack of guilt of colonisation and rule.


This idea contrasts with the impartial rhetoric the curators aim to portray. Polus Antarcticus proclaims itself as an authoritative document to promote potential discovery. The European gaze is similarly evident when we consider that the map is used as an instrument of power behind a rhetoric of truth. This is again reiterated through the elaborate cartouche, attaching authority to the map, discouraging the viewer to questions the statements being made.  The prime meridian is located as the Azores, following the magnetic hypothesis theory at the time as a new natural meridian is an attempt to reflect the impartiality of the peace and thus accuracy, again causing the viewer to unquestionably take on what is implied (Ross 2002.) The known boundaries of the earth are truthfully plotted, with the solid edged lines the known boundaries with the softer lines predicted boundaries, demonstrating the curator’s impartiality in reflecting the state of play. The fact that each scene is represented in daylight likely symbolises a build-up to the enlightenment period, as the land is made “visible” through European colonisation. Taking up the same quantity of space thus importance provides a stable reference point to represent the lands as homogenously barbaric (Cosgrove,.2001)


One could argue that Polus Antarcticus was produced as a means of making evident the political opportunity available. This promotion of discovery is firstly indicated by the maps use of Latin, the language of scientific and elite consumption. This demonstrates the curator’s intentions of getting Polus Antarcticus into the hands of the upper sector of society, those capable of making such philosophies a reality. Due to the (Polar) Mercator projection adopted, the area of land exceeds the sea, amplifying the colonialism opportunities that would come from exploration.  Similarly, the Mercator format is typical of marine cartographies, whereby the lines of latitude can be followed for the purpose of shipping, presenting the logistics of trade. Polus Antarcticus demonstrates themes of imperialism ideology whereby maps are constructed as a tool to portray the word as a social universality in which humanity and empire ready attach (Cosgrove, 2001.) The known diverse cultures and examples of colonial success are illustrated in the four counters, this emphasis of the human presence of the world reinforces bias social relations thus emphasising its feasibility for colonisation and the political potential at stake. The idea of stressing Terra Australis Incognita as a site of opportunity hereby circums Cosgrove’s argument that Human Existence is insignificant when set against the vast perspective of global space. Instead, the “Shimmering” presence of Terra Australis is portrayed as an expansion of narratives of European exploration, and as a third world ripe for settlement, commerce (Scott et al 2012.) The analogy that “to see is to know and to know is to have operational power over space” is implicitly presented, whereby spaces of Terra Incognita have to power to be transformed into spaces of Terra Nullis. Dually, the geological limits to exploration are made starkly aware, with the “ends of the earth” in centre view. Polus Antarcticus therefore acts to kick-start the enlightenment era, (Post-Antarctic discovery) extending light to make other places visible.  Signs of existing Dutch colonisation is evident in the top right-hand corner illustration of South Africa, a prime example of successful occupation. A sense of competition is created, encouraging a final race to discover and colonise unknown territory. In an earlier Blaeu’s map, Terra Australis is obliterated as a ploy to put off individuals and governments pursuing the unknown land. In contrast, Polus Antarcticus is viewed as a form of national self-promotion for the Dutch, to encourage elites to revisit the existing boundaries of New Holland. This is reflected through the multiple Dutch references, the orange flag on the back of the ship the most striking. Interestingly, this colour seems to be manifested on multiple items of clothing in each scene to symbolise the Dutch importance and impression made in these lands, to again promote discovery for national gain. (Harley, 1988)


Terra Australis Incognita, historically viewed as a mythological land, is reinterpreted as an open blank space whereby its potential for housing obscure wondrous delights is fantasied. The idea of a great southern antipodal continent originated as Ptolemy’s ancient Greek Analogy, envisioning the continent as an earthly paradise with the equator being a line that man cannot cross. Prior to the reconnaissance, however, “belief in the antipodes was compared with the belief in the existence of inhabited worlds in outer space today, feverently imagined and sceptically dismissed.” (Fernández-Armesto, 1991) This Apollonian gaze was conjured back into being during the 16th century through the rediscovery of Ptolemy’s work stimulating scholarly interest in cartographic enterprise (Livingstone, 1993.) This new medieval formulation grew due to increased intellectual respectability amongst scientists through an outburst of mathematical precision instruments. (Livingstone, 1999) These proficiencies lead to an expansion of knowledge whereby fragmentary gleanings transitioned into a coherent body of knowledge of the terrestrial globe, opening up the world to European consciousness for the first time. Polus Antarcticus reflects this European awareness of the 17th century and the ranging continuing debates on the logistical size and location southern land as well as the types of existence possible. Historian Daniel Boorstin refers to the term Terra Incognita written on maps as the most promising words ever written. Basic human instinct is a desire to uncover unknown, therefore these terms acted as a driving force behind expeditions to the southern hemisphere  (Livingstone, 1993. ) Here, on the one hand, Polus Antarcticus uses prevailing predicted knowledge. Drawn into conversation as the solution to the scientific problems of navigation, the difference between geographical imaginaries and land actuality was confronted. “Oceanic Navigators dealt with the expectance of the calculated jagged coastline of a significant Austral landmass, thought to balance the weight of the land (Scott et al, 2012.) Faith is placed in the theoretically predicted size and surface of the sphere (Cosgrove, 2001) giving credibility to the land characteristic chosen to display in Polus Antarcticus.


Similarly, one could argue Hondius constructed mythical analogy over likely truth. Myth, referred to as a “narrative in which some aspect of the cosmic order manifests in the form tales and legends about faraway places” flourished in the age of the reconnaissance, with constructions of exoticism and otherness intertwined with imperial European identity (Livingstone, 1993.) Reconnaissance geographical exploration therefore represented a concern to move from myth to map, converting cosmographical theory into cosmographical reality, (Livingstone, 1993) a central theme of Polus Antarcticus. Without explicitly showing mythical creatures, the potential for their existence is implied, as opposed to known likely ice mass with little diversity.  Illustrations of the human extremes from different continents are explicit. Considering Terra incognita is the largest landmass shown and is at the centre of the frame, mythical extremes existing in this environment seems much more likely from this output.  The white background also enhances this ideology. Instead of portraying the landscape in an accurate blue and green as most maps of this era did, the abstract white background contributes to further abstraction and mythicizing the exotic unknown. Jacob (1996) reiterates this point by stating opaqueness assumes space is more complex than it is of endless possibilities and fancies. Here, Hondius himself a participant in myth-making through his own manufacturing of imaginaries. In actuality, credibility and potential for Terra Australis existence diminished from 16,00s onwards due to Pacific exploration, yet here the spectral presence remains.


Hondius exemplifies the mythical potential of Terra Australis through orderly categorisation of the earth, with a deep desire to know all boundaries. This is a key theme in the majority of pre-enlightenment works (Cosgrove, 2001) whereby  “a landmass in the midst of the ocean opposite the familiar world appealed to the renaissance taste for symmetry and more generally the medieval preference for an ordered concordant creation” (Fernández-Armesto, 1991) This relates to the idea of Geographical sacra, the belief that ‘imperfections in the earths physical surface diverged from spherical purity, harmony and order” (Cosgrove, 2001) These deeper ideologies are signified in Polus Antarcticus, whereby mythical potential and categorical order is interlinked. This is evident through the clear-cut distinctions of the different cultures illustrated, with gold lines separating rather than unifying and merging the peoples present.  This reflects the urge to reduce terra incognita to a cartographic enclosure to ultimately calculate the radical differences of the people on earth (Livingstone, 1993.) This is similarly evident through the coastwise extension and competition of oceanic navigation and disinterest in interior lands other than a resource (Cosgrove, 2001.) The unusual Polar projection utilised is an unconventional unrecognizable of the view of the earth separating the southern hemisphere from the rest of the world. This angle of the earth abstractifies and disorientates the viewer causing the view of the earth to be seen in a more mythological sense and allows cartographers to reiterate terra incognito as a fantasy whilst simultaneously allowing unnatural world categorisations to appear. My argument is that if the map was used a standard European projection, categorisation of this kind would not make sense to the population as it is common knowledge that divisions such as this do not occur, however, its extraction from reality thus enables this categorisation.