Chet Van Duzer’s “Sea Monsters on Medieval and Renaissance Maps” (British Library, 2013) depict a range of ‘sea monsters’ which cartographers used to illustrate mysterious, unexplored regions of the globe and the possible dangers of seafaring. Here are a few great examples:
Jonah being cast overboard to the sea monster, from Ortelius’s map of the Holy Land in his Theatrum orbis terrarum.
Whales attacking a ship on Olaus Magnus’s Carta marina of 1539, this image from the 1572 edition. The sailors jettison barrels and a man on the ship plays a trumpet in order to scare the monsters away.
A giant sea-serpent attacks a ship off the coast of Norway on Olaus Magnus’s Carta marina of 1539, this image from the 1572 edition
A siren admires herself in a mirror, a symbol of vanity, near a ship on Pierre Desceliers’s world map of 1550. The styles and colors in which the water is painted beneath the siren and ship are different, suggesting that the siren was painted by a sea monster specialist.
An ichthyocentaur playing a viol on the map of Scandinavia in Ortelius’s Theatrum orbis terrarum (Antwerp, 1571)
An early vision of wind-surfing: a woman holds a sail in order to ride the waves on the back of a sea monster. From Paolo Forlani, Vniversale descrittione di tvtta la terra conoscivta fin qvi (Venice, 1565).