Guillaume Delisle

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Delisle, Guillaume

(b. Paris, France, 28 February 1675; d. Paris, 25 January 1726)


Delisle was the son of Claude Delisle, historian and geographer, and Nicole-Charlotte Millet de la Croyère. Interested in geography and mapmaking from his early childhood, Delisle was taught both by his father and by Gian Domenico Cassini, the director of the Paris observatory. He published his first important work, a set of maps of the continents, a mappemonde, and a globe, in 1700; these immediately established his fame. He was elected to the French Academy of Sciences in 1702 and ran his own mapmaking establishment in Paris until his death. In 1718 Delisle was given the title premier géographe du roi, a distinction no doubt connected with the fact that he tutored the young king, Louis XV, in geography.

Delisle designed and published some ninety maps during his lifetime. These included world maps, maps of continents, and maps of single countries or, in the case of France, provinces. The simple elegance of his work alone would distinguish it from the florid, baroque style affected by his contemporaries and predecessors; but it is the content of his maps that is of importance. Delisle studied under Cassini; and he lived in the era of the great surveys, when a number of places on all continents had their locations accurately determined for the first time, using Cassini’s method of observation of the moons of Jupiter. Delisle applied the astronomers’ findings to his maps; he omitted guesswork, fantasy, and unnecessary or ornamental detail; he admitted lack of knowledge of unexplored territories; and he insisted on critical use of source materials and dependence on scientifically accurate measurements. He thus acquainted the general public with the results of the work of scientists and became the first modern scientific cartographer.


Delisle’s work can be found in a great many libraries throughout the world, in the form of printed atlases and single maps. Further information can be found in Christian Sandier, Die Reformation der Kartographie um 1700 (Munich-Berlin, 1905), pp. 14–23.)

George Kish

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Guillaume Delisle (gēyōm´ dəlēl´), 1675–1726, French geographer and cartographer. His most important work is a world map (1700), as accurate as the data available at that time permitted and the first map on which the errors of Ptolemy were wholly absent. Delisle is called the founder of modern cartography. He was geographer to Louis XV.