Distant journeys and great discoveries
With the dawn of modern times, Europeans began to travel to more distant and inaccessible regions than ever before. The discovery of new continents and unexplored corners of the world was accompanied by the rapid growth of new trade routes that took on global proportions for the first time in history. Exotic goods filled the markets of European cities, from already familiar spices such as pepper or cinnamon, which were now more accessible, to entirely new discoveries: cocoa, chocolate and tobacco. Thanks to global trade, some people gained fantastic fortunes, others were driven to ruin, but certainly the novelty and otherness of life “at the end of the world” stimulated the imagination and longing of many across the social spectrum. In Elbląg, a port city with robust merchant traditions, exotic passions burned as readily as elsewhere in Europe. Young men from Elbląg who left for foreign universities brought back books on newly discovered plants and animals. Wealthy citizens bought elegant volumes about overseas travel and the titillating descriptions of non-European peoples. Catalogues of newly founded museums and cabinets of curiosities, full of objects from distant lands, aroused keen interest and were eagerly purchased. In this way, early modern travel and discovery literature, often lavishly illustrated, became for many people in Europe a window to the far corners of the world they could never reach themselves.
An entomologist examining a beetle in Egypt. Hand-coloured copper engraving by Johann Conrad Krüger, a frontispiece. Carl Gustav Jablonsky, Natursystem aller bekannten in- und ausländischen Insekten, vol. 1, Berlin: Joachim Pauli, 1785, a fronticpiece.
Map of Africa. A text in the frame in the bottom left corner is a description of the route from Portugal to Calcutta around Africa. Sebastian Münster, Cosmographia universalis, Basel: Sebastian Henricpetri, 1550.
A male and a female hippopotamus. François Levaillant, Neue Reise in das Innere von Afrika, vol. 1, Berlin: Christian Friedrich Voß, 1796, fol. VII.