A more scientific outlook and new approaches to making maps forever changed cartography, yet long-established visions of the world did not disappear quickly.
In 1517, Martin Luther nailed his challenge to Rome’s hegemony on the cathedral door in Wittenberg, sparking the Reformation and, with it, a series of overlapping conflicts that would flare for the next 130 years. Underwritten by gold and silver from the New World, Spain’s Philip II became a pivotal figure in many of these wars; brutal, protracted efforts that inevitably put enormous strains on his treasury, and demanded increasing taxation of the wealthy Spanish Netherlands. Increasingly Protestant Dutch traders, seeking political, economic, and religious independence from Catholic Spain, began searching for their own transoceanic routes to the Far East.
With reliable navigational charts becoming critical components of these efforts, Dutch cartographers focused on the underlying mechanics of their work. Here, concept and craft converged. In generating increasingly sophisticated geometric models paired with the advanced print techniques needed to render these projections accurately, they transformed cartography. No longer restricted to its medieval role as an aid to the study of history and theology, it became a highly practical craft—one endowed with the technical precision needed to manage military and economic risks taken with enormous consequence far from sight of land.
Dutch merchants wanting to extend their trade globally required an organization substantially more powerful than the lose affiliation they had at the end of the sixteenth century. This demand resulted in the formulation of Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie, commonly abbreviated to VOC). Established by government charter granting a complete monopoly over commerce with Asia, VOC became the world’s first multi-national corporation, the first company to issue stock, and Europe’s principle player in the spice trade. As such, it was the principal underwriter for the elaborate maps that were both a cause and an effect of the company’s remarkable emergence as the world’s dominant seafaring power.