Leen Helmink Antique Maps

Old books, maps and prints by Michiel Coignet

Michiel Coignet (1549-1623)

Michiel Coignet was the son of the goldsmith and instrument maker Gillés Coignet. After working as a schoolmaster, he worked as Antwerp's wine gauger, and entered the service of the Archdukes Albert and Isabella of Austria as a mathematician and siege engineer. In about 1584 he set up his own workshop producing astrolabes, sundials, armillary spheres and surveying instruments.

Coignet invented several instruments and corresponded with Galileo Galilei (from 1588), Gerhard Mercator, Godefroy Wendelin, Ludolph van Ceulen and Fabrizio Mordente, whom he met during the latter’s 1584 sojourn in Antwerp. Among other things, Coignet invented and described instruments that had a function similar to that of the proportional compass. During the dispute over the invention of the proportional compass in 1610, Giovanni Camillo Gloriosi attributed the invention to Coignet and not to Galileo.

Strongly encouraged and financed by Gillis Hooftman, in 1580 Coignet published a treatise on navigation entitled Nieuwe Onderwijsinghe op de principaelste Puncten der Zeevaert ('New Instructions on the Principal Points of Navigation'). It was published by the Antwerp publisher Hendrik Hendriksen, as an appendix to the Dutch-language translation of Pedro de Medina's Arte de Navegar. In the appendix he pointed to the possibility of determining longitude at sea with watches on the ships. He also described some of his newly invented instruments such as the nautical hemisphere. The nautical hemisphere is an instrument with which the longitude problem could, in theory, be solved.

Around 1600 Coignet became involved in the publication of atlases. He edited various editions of the world maps of Abraham Ortelius. He added an introduction on projections and 13 maps to some editions of Ortelius' Epitome atlas. The Latin-language Epitome was quickly translated into English and French. Coignet edited the French version published in Antwerp. One of the new maps was a map with a description of Japan, for which he had obtained the information from Jesuit sources. Coignet also added an introduction to the atlas Speculum Orbis terrarum of Gerard de Jode.

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