Of the Monstrous Pictures of Whales


When Herman Melville complains in chapter 55 of Moby Dick about erroneous representations of whales, this is the kind of thing he had in mind. Among those he takes to task, however, I don’t recall any of them having two blow-holes like the creature above.


The coat of arms of Portugal.

These fanciful beasts are the work of (no sniggering, please) Hieronymus Cock (1510–1570), an Antwerp engraver, and they populate the seas as part of his marvellous map of America created with the assistance of Spanish cartographer Diego Gutiérrez.

Gutiérrez’s magnificent 1562 map of America was not intended to be a scientifically or navigationally exacting document, although it was of large scale and remained the largest map of America for a century. It was, rather, a ceremonial map, a diplomatic map, as identified by the coats of arms proclaiming possession. Through the map, Spain proclaimed to the nations of Western Europe its American territory, clearly outlining its sphere of control, not by degrees, but with the appearance of a very broad line for the Tropic of Cancer clearly drawn on the map.

The map is described in detail here while another part of the Library of Congress Map Collections site has an incredible high-resolution copy which is a delight to pore over. This is a really big image (10492 x 11908 pixels) but the huge size is just what I love to see. You can not only zoom into the myriad details—cannibals cooking a human feast in Brazil—but also admire the precision of the cross-hatching. Less than forty years separate these generic creatures from Jan Saenredam’s far more accurate rendering of a beached sperm whale.


A dolphin (Melville classed dolphins and porpoises as small whales).

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The etching and engraving archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Jan Saenredam’s whale
The Whale again
Rockwell Kent’s Moby Dick