Born in either 1555 or 1560, the French mariner Jacques Devaulx created one of the finest examples of navigational knowledge in the Age of Exploration. Les Premières Œuvres de Jacques Devaulx (The First Works of Jacques Devaulx) contains 31 folios illustrated with old maps, instruments, and practical instruction in navigation and astronomy. TASCHEN recently published a new facsimile edition of the work.
In the 16th century, European voyages to the Americas were fraught with danger for mariners, not the least of which was getting lost. French policy focused on establishing trading posts in the New World, and to that end, a French prince commissioned Devaulx to produce a navigational guide to the Atlantic world. Les Premières Œuvres combines Devaulx's scholarship with empirical observations. His maps clearly show Europe, Asia, Africa, the Americas, and a hypothetical southern continent; he also indicates terra incognita at the south pole. But the work displays the limits of European geographical knowledge at the time, and there are also a bunch of sea monsters frolicking in the English Channel.
After creating two editions of Les Premières Œuvres, Devaulx embarked on a two-year voyage to the Americas, where he surely put his long-distance navigational skills to work. Aboard the ship La Normande, Devaulx explored trade possibilities in the Amazon basin in Brazil, charted Caribbean islands, and sailed north along the Eastern Seaboard from Florida to Labrador in Canada.
Writes co-author Jean-Yves Sarazin in the book’s introduction, “[Devaulx] was avid for modernity, an open-minded man with a real enthusiasm for unexplored or little-known subjects and constantly on the lookout for new means and formulae by which nautical science could be developed.”