Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Wind Cries Mary In 1650

by Stephen J. Gertz

 Tabula Anemographica seu Pyxis Nautica Ventorum Nomina Sex Linguis Repraesentans.

After all the jacks are in their boxes,
and the clowns have all gone to bed,
you can hear happiness staggering on down the street,
Blown by a wind-rose, hand-colored, a grand old spread.

The above wind chart, Tabula Anemographica seu Pyxis Nautica Ventorum Nomina Sex Linguis Repraesentans, was originally published as Plate I in Jan Janssonius' Amsterdam, 1650, Atlas Maritimus, containing thirty-three maps of the waterworld. It's  one of the earliest and most significant anemographic, or wind rose, charts to appear in the seventeenth century. A scarce example of the 1750 fifth impression (above) is being offered by Ketterer Kunst in their Wertvolle Bücher auction November 19-20, 2012.

This visually stunning map represents a transitional point in the perception of direction, from the feel the wind to the sight of a compass.

Early seagoers in the Mediterranean defined direction by the names the various winds and the points from which they blew, an idea that can be traced back to Homer, who identified four cardinal winds; as navigation and cartography improved, more winds were added.

This chart identifies thirty-two winds and a host of various wind systems. Each of the winds is identified by several different names, in Greek, Latin, French, and Dutch.

Each wind is married to contemporary compass points - north, west, east, and south - and the more sophisticated circle system with degrees.

Each wind is, furthermore, personified by a figure bearing the racial characteristics associated with the region or direction represented. The upper left quadrant, for instance, representing north, depicts bearded Germans or Scandinavians. The upper right, representing east, shows beardless dark skinned faces. The beardless and pale skinned figures in the lower left and right, representing west and south, are less distinguishable but may represent indigenous Americans and Greeks.

Anemographic maps were functional objects and valuable reference tools. Early navigators, referring to the directions as winds, might sail by the north wind. This was  practical when trade winds dictated ocean commerce. A warm wind from the south, for example, might suggest that certain routes, closed for part of the year, were now open.

A navigator would have used this chart to, amongst other reasons, compare different names for directions. Here, he could figure out what various sailing logs and navigation books were referring to.

Nautical charts existed in the seventeenth century yet most navigation was performed using Pilot Books that contained vague instructions, i.e. Follow the south wind for three days before turning left with the eastern wind.

Yet an old mariner's habits persist. While sailing through '60s Counterculture, Jimi Hendrix asserted that the wind blowing through popular music in May, 1967 cried, "Mary," and thereby charted a new direction in the air. Rock guitarists have been following that breeze ever since.


[LOTTER, Tobias Conrad, engraver (1717-1777]. Tabula Anemographica seu Pyxis Nautica Ventorum Nomina Sex Linguis Repraesentans. Ausburg: 1750. Fifth edition, re-engraved.

Image courtesy of Ketterer Kunst Auctions - Hamburg, currently offering this 1750 impression, with our thanks.

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