Map aficionados will arrive from near and far for this weekend’s Map Mania Symposium at the New Mexico History Museum. Some will probably be guided to their destination by the reassuring voice of a GPS system built into their cars or accessed through their cellphones. Harnessing satellite communications to provide instantaneous global positioning has become the norm for navigation in the early 21st century, but the accuracy gained through this technology has come at the cost of another desirable trait of cartography: fantasy.

Pasatiempo last met up with the work of cartographic historian Chet Van Duzer two and a half years ago, when we paged through his opulent volume Sea Monsters on Medieval and Renaissance Maps, published by The British Library. In that book, he focused on the beasts that populate the otherwise empty oceans of medieval and Renaissance maps, ranging from the hostile (such as the sawfish that swims beneath vessels and slices them in half) to the beneficent (the whale that allowed the friar Bernardo Buil to construct an altar on its back) and the merely curious (like the marine dog and marine chicken). Among the many fauna-filled maps he considered, Van Duzer passed fleetingly over Pierre Descelier’s “large … and gloriously coloured manuscript world map of 1550,” which he found to be “not very rich in sea monsters,” although it did have a few.

That map, it turns out, was unusually interesting in other ways. It is the subject of his latest book, The World for a King: Pierre Desceliers’ Map of 1550, also published by The British Library and no less sumptuous than its predecessor. Van Duzer offers a précis of the map at the outset: “This book is about one of the most spectacular maps to survive from the sixteenth century, the world map made by the Norman cartographer Pierre Desceliers for presentation to King Henry II of France in 1550. It is composed of four conjoined pieces of parchment that together measure an imposing 135 x 215 centimeters (4 feet 5 inches by 7 feet 1 inch), and is elaborately hand-painted with illustrations of cities, kings, exotic peoples, animals, ships, and sea monsters, and has twenty-six long descriptive texts that seem to have been composed especially for this map.”