I. Early Depictions of Brasil

Angellino Dulcert (fl. 1339)
[Carte marine de la mer Baltique, de la mer du Nord, de l’océan Atlantique Est, de la mer Méditerranée, de la mer Noire et de la mer Rouge]
1339. Facsimile, 1890.
The island of Hy-Brasil first appeared on a hand-drawn nautical chart in the year 1325. This chart, by Majorcan cartographer Angelino Dulcert, depicted Hy-Brasil as a large, circular landmass off the western coast of Ireland. Displayed here is a 19th-century facsimile of Dulcert’s chart from 1339 – fourteen years after the island originally graced the chart. Early depictions of Hy-Brasil on maps place the island near the western coast of Ireland, nearly at the latitude of southern Ireland. However, as time passes and more sea-faring expeditions by Europeans take place, the mapped location of Hy-Brasil changes.
Martin Behaim (1459-1507)
Facsimile von Martin Behaim’s 1492 ‘Erdapfel’
Leipzig, 1992
Courtesy Mapping Boston Foundation.
Hy-Brasil is included in this facsimile of Martin Behaim’s famous globe, originally produced in 1492. Here, the island sits just off the coast of southwest Ireland. Just five years after Behaim made his globe in Germany, the English navigator John Cabot sailed out of Bristol in search of the fabled island. Cabot did make landfall in Newfoundland in 1497, and soon news circulated that he had indeed found the elusive Brasil island. By the mid-16th century, Hy-Brasil is depicted as being in American waters, off the coast of Newfoundland.
Claudius Ptolemy (2nd Century CE)
Oceani Occidetalis seu Terre Nove Tabula
Strasbourg, France, 1525.
The 1525 edition of Ptolemy’s Geographia, published in Strasbourg, includes a depiction of Hy-Brasil in the map of the Atlantic, or “western,” Ocean. Geographia included maps from the ancient world of Ptolemy, as well as modern maps produced as the result of recent expeditions. This map of the Atlantic Ocean is an example of a modern map in the atlas. Indicated as “Brazil” in this woodcut map, the island is represented as two triangular shapes, pressed back-to-back, with space in between. Although the island is still near the south western coast of Ireland, its shape has changed from earlier depictions. Later maps from the 16th century reveal that Hy-Brasil moves closer to American waters, mainly east of Newfoundland.
Paolo Forlani (fl. 1560-1571)
Il Desegno del Discoperto della Noua Franza …
Venice, 1566. Facsimile, 1892.
By 1566, Hy-Brasil has been relocated from the western coast of Ireland, to the southern coast of Labrador, in North America. Here, Italian map maker Paolo Forlani places Hy-Brasil just southeast of the coast of Labrador in his map of “Noua Franza,” or, New France (Canada). There are a number of maps in this online exhibition that feature a similar placement of Brasil in American waters.
Abraham Ortelius (1527-1598)
“Typus Orbis Terrarum,” from Theatrum Orbis Terrarum
Antwerp, Belgium, 1570.
Abraham Ortelius’ atlas Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, or, Theater of the World, is considered the first modern world atlas. It was the first time that a set of maps, contemporary to the date of publication, was designed, drawn, and engraved with the intention of publishing them in a bound volume. Ortelius includes Hy-Brasil in three maps in the atlas – the world map, the map of Europe, and the map of Northern Europe – and places the island in the vicinity of Ireland. 16th-century mapmakers prior to Ortelius placed Hy-Brasil in American waters; however, in this example, Ortelius returns the mythical island to its original position near to Ireland.
Abraham Ortelius (1527-1598)
“Europae,” from Theatrum Orbis Terrarum
Antwerp, Belgium, 1570.
In Ortelius’ map of Europe from Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, he places Hy-Brasil off the northwestern coast of Ireland – a marked difference from the positioning of Hy-Brasil in the world map from the same atlas.
Abraham Ortelius (1527-1598)
“Septentrionalium Regionum Descrip.,” from Theatrum Orbis Terrarum
Antwerp, Belgium, 1570.
Ortelius includes Hy-Brasil in a third map from his Theatrum Orbis Terrarum. In this map of Northern Europe, Ortelius places Hy-Brasil off the western coast of Ireland, and depicts the island in a similar style as was seen in the 1525 edition of Ptolemy above. In addition, the mythical island of St. Brandan is included in this map. The story of St. Brendan also comes from Irish folklore, although its presence on maps was short-lived compared to that of Hy-Brasil.
Petrus Plancius (1552-1622)
Orbis Terrarum Typus de Integro Multis in Locis Emendatus
Amsterdam, 1594.
Courtesy Mapping Boston Foundation.
In this double-hemisphere map of the world by Petrus Plancius, Hy-Brasil assumes its original position off the western coast of Ireland. The additional maps executed in this format included here also keep Hy-Brasil in the eastern hemisphere, near Ireland.

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