Jacques-Nicolas the elder Bellin

(1703–1772)

Bellin is considered by many to be the most significant and influential publisher of charts in eighteenth century France. At the tender age of eighteen, in 1721, he joined the newly formed Dépôt des Cartes et Plans de la Marine, more frequently known as the Depot de la Marine, created by Louis XIV to consolidate the loose network of naval archives of the French empire reporting to Paris and Versailles. Charles-Hercule d’Albert de Luynes (1674–1734) was appointed as its first official director, but it was the young cartographer, Bellin, who was to chart the course of the Depot for more than fifty years, until his death. He was appointed Ingénieur hydrographe de la Marine” in 1741. Under his leadership, the functions of the Depot rapidly diversified from being a simple repository, to the central place of production of French maps, which Louis XV finally granted a monopoly to in 1773.

During his career, Bellin published a number of atlases, the most significant of which were Hydrographie française (1753), Le Neptune Francoise (1755) and Le Petit Atlas Français (1763), reissued as Le Petit Atlas Maritime in 1764, with the addition of the Nouvelle méthode pour apprendre la géographie (1769). Combined, these atlases show the coastlines of the known world, with a comprehensive depiction of the urban landscape too.

Bellin’s output was enormous, and his maps were copied throughout Europe for decades. He was a member of the Académie de Marine and of the Royal Society of London.