The map shown here, the Propoganda map done in 1529, is the one now in the Biblioteca Apostalica Vaticana, Vatican City. It is an illustrated manuscript world map produced on vellum measuring 85 x 205 cm [33 x 80 inches]. This map is justifiably considered by many scholars to be the finest cartographic production of its age. The mapmaker, whose name in its Portuguese form is Diogo Ribeiro, was a Portuguese at Seville in the service of King Charles V of Spain. This most impressive copy of the Padrón Real was given to the Pope by the Emperor in 1529. In 1524 Estevão Gomes, a Portuguese cartographer who had sailed in Ferdinand Magellan’s fleet, explored Nova Scotia, sailing South through Maine, where he entered New York Harbor, the Hudson River and eventually reached Florida in August 1525. As a result of his expedition, the 1529 Diogo Ribeiro world map outlines the East coast of North America almost perfectly.
Since I have written on sextants, backstaffs, sundials and nautical astrolabes for determining lattitude and marine chronometers for determining longitude, I thought I would complete the circle and write a post on the early maps of America and the world during the age of discovery. (see Astrolabes and Sundials: Musée des Arts et Métiers and French Maritime Museum Navigation Instruments) I love maps, especially maps from this period, they are the perfect combination of art, history, technology and of course travel. These richly illuminated maps were meant to bring the experience of travel to the viewer, with sextants, sea monsters, exotic animals and bold territorial declarations. The cartographers who created and maintained the records used to create them were the grand artists of the day. These maps were jealously guarded trophies of each countries achievements, recording a race between countries to divide the riches of the world. Each of the exquisite maps that I will present here, has a story that could occupy an entire post, my goal is to present you with the most famous maps, their location for viewing and a small amount of context. The list of important milestones is included for reference to the time of each map. In addition to the maps, I have included an unbelievable story of intrigue and espionage that pits the Columbus brothers against Amerigo Vespucci, Portugal and Spain.
The Padrón Real, known after 1527 as the Padrón General, was the official and secret Spanish master map used as a template for the maps present on all Spanish ships during the 16th century. It was kept in Seville, Spain by the Casa de Contratación. Similarly, under the leadership of Prince Henry the Navigator, Portugal took the principal role during most of the fifteenth century in searching for a route to Asia by sailing south around Africa. The Portuguese secret master map, the Padrão Real, developed by the Portuguese organization Casa da Mina e India was established in Lisbon in 1500, and lasted until the earthquake in 1755. These organizations were a huge undertaking, and were taken very seriously. The Portuguese king, João II, had placed an embargo on the provision of charts showing the new discoveries under penalty of death. Without good navigational aids, the ability of Spain and Portugal to exploit and profit from their discoveries would have been limited.
Dulcert’s Portolano from the year 1339, is remarkable for the latitude of Europe and North Africa which are perfect, and the longitudinal coordinates of the Mediterranean and of the Black sea which are approximated to half a degree. It was made by Angelino “Dulcert” in Palma on the Island of Majorca and is now in the Bibliotheque Nationale de France in Paris, France. Virtually nothing is known of Angelino Dulceti/Dolcet/Dalorto/Dulcert, although he may have come from Liguria. The portolan combined the notations of the text of the periplus or pilot book with the decorative illustrations of a map. The word portolan comes from the Italian adjective portolano, meaning “related to ports or harbours.” They focus on a realistic depiction of the shore and harbors, and they were meant for practical use by a mariner of the period. The straight lines criss-crossing this portolan chart represent the thirty-two directions (or headings) of the mariner’s compass from a given point. This is similar to the compass rose displayed on later maps and charts. Naming or demonstrating all thirty-two points is called “boxing the compass”.
The 1339 Dulcert map is notable for giving the first modern depiction of the island of Lanzarote, one of the Canary Islands, as Insula de Lanzarotus Marocelus, and what seems like the Madeira islands, named here as Capraria and Canaria from Ptolomy. The Portuguese “rediscovered” the Madeiras in 1420.
Claudius Ptolemy was a celebrated astronomer, mathematician, and geographer who lived in Alexandria. Ptolemy succeeded in establishing the elements and form of scientific cartography. This he did through his great treatise, Geographike Syntaxis, called by him, “the geographical guide to the making of maps”, and, in later centuries, shortened to simply Geographia. Although his thinking influenced contemporary Arab geographers, little was known of his work in the West until manuscripts from Constantinople reached Italy in about 1400. These manuscripts were written in Greek and contained the names of every city, island, mountain and river known to the many travelers interviewed by Ptolemy. In addition, the latitude and longitude of each of the resulting eight thousand locations were also recorded. They were translated into Latin by 1401 and appeared in print by 1475. The earliest Byzantine manuscript maps, drawn by analyzing the Ptolemy figures, date from the twelfth century. A number of handdrawn copies were made in Italy throughout the early fifteenth century to accompany Ptolemy’s text, including this one from 1478.
A few points about Ptolemy’s map influenced later map makers, the Indian ocean is enclosed by land, with a large landmass to the south, which Greek thinkers thought was necessary to “balance” the known northern lands. Everything is elongated horizontally including the Mediterranean sea and Asia. This encouraged the thinking of people like Columbus who thought China was much closer going west from Europe than it actually was. Finally, India is shortened into almost a rectangle and Ceylon is drawn way too big.
In the 1470’s, Paolo Toscanelli (1397-1482), a Florentine physician and cosmographer, was the earliest known medieval supporter of a westward voyage from Europe to the Far East to portray his theories cartographically. He contended that the Far East could be reached more directly by sailing west than by rounding the Cape of Good Hope and crossing the Indian Ocean. Toscanelli accepted Marco Polo’s earliest claim of the elongated Asian continent. Toscanelli sent a letter and maps (or charts) to the King of Portugal in 1474 and to Columbus before 1481. These documents deeply affected the course of Columbus’ life and the history of the world. Although Toscanelli’s letter has survived, his historic map was lost; but the map can be reconstructed from the text of his letter. Cippangu is the name by which Japan had been known in Europe since Marco Polo brought home the name of the island. Cathay as a European name for China also derives from Marco Polo, who used it for northern China, southern China being ‘Manji’ in his accounts. Antillia is a non-existent island that was reputed, during the 15th century age of exploration, to lie in the Atlantic Ocean, far to the west of Portugal and Spain. The island also went by the name of Isle of Seven Cities.
We know very little of the life of the German mapmaker Martellus, apart from the fact that he was born in 1440, lived in Italy and spent some time working in the Vatican. In 1489 he produced three codex with maps and text, which he called Insularium Illustration, pictured above from the British Library. Henricus Martellus world maps of 1490 show a non?existent Asian peninsula (the Tigerleg) east of the Malay peninsula and Africa is way too long. Both the elongated horn of Africa and this odd peninsula seem to enclose the Indian Ocean. Many place?names on the map were derived from Marco Polo’s writings. The east coast of Africa has names from the voyage of Dias, quite exactly as it turns out, apparently information from the Padrão Real leaked out, despite the death threat from the king. It is the contention of Arthur Davies who held the Reardon-Smith Chair of Geography at the University of Exeter from 1948 to 1971, that the map was a fraud, invented by Bartholomew and Christopher Columbus and changed from the Padrão Real in three ways. First, by extending Asia eastwards to 240° from the Canaries. Second, by inventing the great obstruction of the Tigerleg. Third, by placing Cipango (Japan) as only 90° west of Lisbon. In 1489, they extended Africa to 45° south. All of this was done to convince the Spanish king Ferdinand that it was easier to go west to India and to approve the Columbus expedition.
This is where it gets interesting. The largest Martellus map dated around 1490 is is at Yale University, Beinecke Rare Book and Map Museum, a gift of an anomomous donor in 1963. The sheets of paper on which the Yale map is drawn are of different sizes, which excluded the possibility that they were printed map sheets, for they would then have had to be the same size to fit within the map portfolio. Davies contends that the Yale map was the original, or prototype of the Martellus maps, and was the joint product, according to Davies, of the Columbus brothers.
“When Columbus left Lisbon in 1485 for Spain, Bartholomew, with his highly trained skills as a cartographer in the Genoese style, stayed on in the map workshop of King John II. He was engaged in building up a large map of the world based on Donus Nicolaus and on Portuguese charts. It was, like all important maps at that time, drawn on sheets of parchment which could be joined together almost invisibly, and mounted on linen. This large map, 180 cm by 120 cm, formed a standard Portuguese world map, continually added to by new discoveries, including those of Cão and Diaz. By the beginning of 1489, Columbus faced poverty and failure in Spain; his pension had been ended in 1488 and he no longer had free board and lodging from Medina-Celi or the Marquess de Moya. Bartholomew prepared to join him in Spain and help his project. They needed money and, in particular, the vital and continued support of the Bank of St. George in Genoa. They got both. Money could be obtained from the sale of maps kept secret in Portugal. Before leaving Lisbon, Bartholomew copied maps of convenient size. The large standard world map he had to copy in some secrecy and, because of its size, he needed 11 sheets of paper, cheaper, and thinner and quieter than parchment. These sheets of the “Yale” Martellus were tracings in the hand of Bartholomew. Early in 1489 he left Lisbon. He went first to Seville to help his brother and there altered the Yale map by substituting another sheet of paper which showed Africa to 45° south. Then he visited Italy to sell maps and to gain the support of the Bank of St. George. Antonio Gallo, Chancellor of the Bank of St. George, was also official chronicler of Genoa. After Columbus returned from discovering Asia, as was claimed by him at the time, his name rang through Europe. Yet Gallo took the occasion to record his knowledge (in his chronicles) of the Columbus brothers. What is astonishing is that he gave all the credit for conceiving the enterprise to Bartholomew, who first thought it out and entrusted it to his older brother, who was more used to the sea. This account of Gallo was copied, almost verbatim, by Serenega in 1499 and by Giustiniani in 1516. Bartholomew left Genoa as a youth in 1479 and officially made only one further visit to Italy, in 1506. Gallo could have acquired knowledge of the role of Bartholomew only from his own lips, in 1489. Thereafter the Bank supported Columbus from time to time with credits.
The sheets of the “Yale” Martellus, together with certain regional maps, were “acquired” by the patron. Martellus assembled the paper sheets, stuck them on a canvas backing, made his characteristic rectangular picture frame for it and coloured the seas in dark blue. Then he signed it. He then made a copy on a quarter of the scale, covering two parchment folios of the codex, to be included in it. He copied the regional maps and included them. Lastly he made three manuscript maps from the codex world map, larger in scale.”
Davies, A., “Behaim, Martellus and Columbus,” The Geographical Journal 143 (1977), pp. 451-459.
I cannot say if this speculation about the Columbus brothers is true but it was published in a peer reviewed journal, it seems reasonable and thirty years later seems to be uncontested.
It was Martin Behaim of Nuremberg (1459-1507), who, in so far as we have knowledge, constructed one of the first modern terrestrial globes, which he called the Erdapfel (literally, the earth apple). Behaim informs us in one of the legends of his globe that his work is based upon Ptolemy’s Cosmography, upon the travels of Marco Polo and Sir John Mandeville, and the explorations carried on by the order of King John of Portugal, for the remainder. In fact, the globe is constructed on the 1385 fabrication of the Columbus brothers and looks very similar to the Martellus map.
This is the “Columbus map” which may have been drawn by Christopher Columbus and/or his brother Bartolomeo in Lisbon around 1490 before the discovery of the New World. The Genoese flag on the Cape Verde islands suggests someone sympathetic to the Genoese Antonio de Noli, who discovered the islands in the service of Portugal, made the map. The accuracy of the coast of Africa suggests someone from Portugal. The circular mappamundi (circular medieval map) is also noteworthy for showing southern and eastern Africa more accurately than does either the Martellus map or the Behaim globe. It implies that information is included from Vasco da Gama, the Portuguese navigator who discovered India, even though he did not return to Europe until 1499. The real author and date are unknown, it is nonetheless a beautiful map. It is located in the Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris.
The map or chart of Juan de la Cosa is painted on parchment, 93 cm high and 183 cm wide, currently preserved at the Museo Naval of Madrid in Spain. A line of text on the map says it was made by the Cantabrian cartographer and sailor Juan de la Cosa in 1500 in the Andalusian port city of Puerto de Santa María. Its rich decoration hints that it was ordered by some powerful member of the court of the Catholic Monarchs, who ruled the kingdoms of Castile and Aragon at that time. It is the earliest map of Columbus voyages. Juan de la Cosa sailed with Christopher Columbus on his first three voyages to the New World, he owned and was master of the Santa María, flagship of Columbus’s first voyage in 1492 which was shipwrecked in Haiti. Columbus thought he had discovered Asia, so the landmass on the left is China.
This is the Cantino World Map of 1502. It may seem strange that, with so much exploration activity during this period, why few earlier original Portuguese charts have survived (as far as we know). As we have discussed, the Padrão Real was a state secret. Yet, in 1502 Alberto Cantino, a diplomat in Lisbon of the Este family, donated to the Duke of Ferrara, a world map on parchment depicting the new discoveries, from an illegal copy of the Padrão. During the popular outbreak of 1859 in Italy, the palace was invaded by a mob and the map stolen. A few years afterwards, the librarian of the Biblioteca Estense, Signor Boni, happened to pass in the Via Farini the shop of a pork butcher, with the map pasted to the window screen. He bought the map, removed the vellum from the screen, and presented the map to the Biblioteca Estense, in Modena Italy, where it is now preserved.
The map is particularly notable for portraying a fragmentary record of the Brazilian coast, discovered in 1500 by Portuguese explorer Pedro Álvares Cabral who wondered whether it was merely an island or part of the continent that several Spanish expeditions had just encountered farther north (Amerigo Vespucci). The main feature to be noted with regard to Asia is the almost complete abandonment of Ptolemy’s conception of the southern coasts, and the great reduction in the longitudinal extent of the continent. The southeastern coastline of Asia is shown as lying approximately 160° east of the Line of Demarcation, a figure very close to the truth. The vertical line is a result of the Treaty of Tordesillas which was intended to resolve the land dispute that had been created following the return of Christopher Columbus. It was a vertical line that divided the America’s between Portugal and Spain. As you can see, Portugal got Brazil and Africa, while Spain got the area west of the line. Also there appears to be a fragment of Florida (the Zaiton Peninsula) with a pretty accurate depiction of the Carribean. This is pretty surprising since Ponce de Leon did not discover Florida until 1513. The Spanish Propaganda Map at the top of this post uses Portuguese discoveries to detail North America with many Portuguese Place names.
Prince Henry “The Navigator” of Portugal (1420-1460) and later King John II sent numerous explorers west seeking the location of the mainland referred to as “Antillia” or the “Isle of Seven Cities” in the 15th century. The 5th century saw gradual improvements in Portuguese cartography regarding the actual location of the Zaiton peninsula (Florida or maybe Antillia), the accuracy of Portuguese charts with respect to the position of mainland and isles in the Western Atlantic and fishing grounds in the North Atlantic. It is thought that Columbus had Portuguese Atlantic charts, and if this is true, they serve as a reminder that it was the Portuguese who undertook a comprehensive survey of the Atlantic Ocean. Some say Columbus merely “rediscovered” Portuguese finds of the previous century. Certainly in 1502 the Portuguese knew how far it was from Spain to China. The biographer of Columbus, Ferdinand Colon, wrote that the Portuguese had succeeded in reaching Antillia by 1430.
The Waldseemüller map from 1507. This highly significant map of the world eluded examination by modern scholars for nearly four hundred years until its re-discovery in 1901 by the Jesuit historian, Joseph Fisher, in the library of Prince von Waldburg zu Wolfegg-Waldsee at the Castle of Wolfegg, Württemberg Germany. The carthographers Martin Waldseemüller and Matthias Ringmann from southern Germany collected map data over several years, including about the most recent discoveries, to realize this world map. They incorporated for the first time in history the name America on a map after Amerigo Vespucci. Vespucci may have participated as observer in more than one voyage that explored the east coast of South America between 1499 and 1502. Many historians suspect manipulation on the part of Vespucci since the sole evidence of his voyages are his letters written to his friends and not any official logs or reports or archives. Vespucci came to the world’s attention chiefly through the publication in 1503 and 1504 of two brief letters that broke the news that the natives of the New World were very promiscuous. Vespucci, or perhaps his anonymous publisher, also had the wit to entitle the first letter Novus Mundus, the New World, an audacious and as it turned out accurate claim. He was not the first European of his era to set foot on the mainland, as was once thought, but probably was the first to realize that the land he helped explore was a separate continent and not merely the coast of Asia, as Columbus and others believed. Look at the upper left hand part of the map, Antilla has evolved into a mini-continent with a peninsula (Florida).
Francesco Rosselli created many important maps, including one of the first printed maps of the world to depict the Americas after Christopher Columbus’ voyages. His two most famous maps date from 1506 and 1508. The 1506 Contarini-Rosselli map, his only signed and dated work, was the first printed map showing the New World. Rosselli’s 1508 world map was the first map drawn on an oval projection. The dating of this planisphere and sea-chart depends partly upon the fact that the names given by Columbus during his fourth voyage to features in Central America, including Hispaniola and Cuba, are here shown on the Indo-China coast. This is consistent with Columbus’s own belief that he had reached the coasts of Asia. Thus China is broken into two pieces, with the islands of Columbus in between. You can see however, that Africa looks pretty good in terms of size and shape. His 1508 map, shown above, also depicted a Southern Continent where Antarctic continent is, vaguely similar in general position to the Southern Continent on the Piri Reis map of 1513 and several subsequent maps. This has led to a great deal of unwarranted speculation on the timing of the discovery of Antarctica.
The Contarini–Rosselli map was designed by Giovanni Matteo Contarini and engraved by Francesco Rosselli. It is a copper-engraved map and was published in Venice or Florence in 1506. The only surviving copy is in the British Library. Here, it looks like Greenland is a peninsula of North America, a belief shared by the Vikings.
In 1929, a group of historians found an map drawn on a gazelle skin in a Turkish Library. Gustav Adolph Deissmann had been commissioned by the Turkish Ministry of Education to catalogue the Topkap? Saray? library’s non-Islamic items. At Deissmann’s request to search the palace for old maps and charts, the director Halil Edhem managed to find some disregarded bundles of material, which he handed over to Deissmann. Realizing that the map might be a unique find, Deissmann showed it to the orientalist Paul Kahle who identified it as a map drawn by Piri Reis. Research showed that it was a genuine document drawn in 1513 by Piri Reis, a famous admiral of the Turkish fleet in the sixteenth century. It caused an international sensation since cartographers had spent several centuries unsuccessfully searching for a “lost map of Columbus” that was supposedly drawn while he was in the West Indies. For 1513, this map shows an astonishing amount of detail, with a pretty good relative location of Africa and South America. The notes on the map explain that the map was synthesized from about 20 maps, many of which were captured from Spanish and Portuguese ships in the Mediterranean. It was also supplemented by accounts given by captured Spanish and Portuguese sailors. The Piri Reis map is currently located in the Library of the Topkap? Palace in Istanbul, Turkey, but is not usually on display to the public.
In 1562 Diego Gutiérrez, a Spanish cartographer from the Casa de la Contratación, and Hieronymus Cock, a noted engraver from Antwerp, collaborated in the preparation of a spectacular and ornate map of what was then referred to as the fourth part of the world, America. It was the largest engraved map of America to that time. The fact that only two known existing copies of this printed map, one located in the Library of Congress (Washington, D.C.) and the other preserved in the British Library (London) no doubt contributes to our lack of knowledge about this valuable and authoritative depiction of Spanish dominion in its new world, America. Also notice there is no vertical line of demarcation between Spain and Portugal as decreed by the Treaty of Tordesillas, which no one observed anyway, but now a horizontal line emphasizing the Tropic of Cancer, below which was all the gold producing areas of Spain. This is the first map to name California and the Amazon river is drawn with good detail.
The April 3, 1559 Treaty of Cateau Cambrésis between Spain and France is a key event in the map’s preparation. That treaty and another signed on April 2, 1559 between France and England are known collectively as the Peace of Cateau Cambrésis. Three crests are shown on the map, Spain and France are together in recognition of the treaty, and Portugal is at the bottom, sort of in the mid-Atlantic, presumably where Spain hoped they would stay, with their possessions in Africa. This is really a political map, saying to the world, everything below the Tropic of Cancer “is mine”. No one listened.
The Mercator map of 1569 changed map making forever; we draw most maps today using a Mercator projection. Mercator projected his map on a cylinder, it was called Nova et aucta orbis terrae descriptio ad usum navigantium accommodata – Representation of a New and Original Globe of the World for Use in Adjusting Navigation. On this map, Mercator drew the lines of longitude parallel to each other. They crossed the lines of latitude, also shown as parallel, at angles of ninety degrees. These parallels were actually loxodromes (rhumb lines) which indicated lines of constant compass bearings. All a navigator had to do was to draw a line between his starting point and destination point and this would tell him the compass direction he had to follow. In effect, therefore, the Earth may have looked flat on Mercator’s Projection, but the map took into account the fact that it was round, the one vital thing the plane charts had not done. The problem was that the farther one went from the equator, the more distortion occurred. That is why Greenland looks as big as Africa on some maps. There are three original maps today, one at the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris, a colored Manuscript at Maritime Museum Rotterdam and the one pictured above, at the University of Basil, Switzerland.
The Vinland Map was first brought to the public’s attention in 1957 by an Italian bookseller, Enzo Ferrajoli from Barcelona. The document now known as the Vinland map was discovered bound in a thin manuscript text entitled Historia Tartarorum (now commonly referred to as the Tartar Relation). This manuscript text and map were copied about the year 1440 by an unknown scribe from earlier originals, since lost.
Two primary areas of concerns have been raised. First is the claim of the map’s owner, Yale University, that it was the earliest and only cartographic documentation of the medieval Norse exploration of the northeast coast of America, Greenland and Iceland, and second, the the ink and content appear to be contemporary. As controversy has swirled around the map almost since its acquisition, authorities at Yale University have chosen not to comment on the authenticity of the parchment document, other than to say they watch the debate with unusual interest. If it is a forgery, it may have been based on Bianco Map of 1436, drawn near the time of the alleged creation of the Vinland Map. The legendary cartographer Andrea Bianco is hailed for the first cartographic representation of the peninsular state of Florida. Andrea Bianco was himself a Venetian sailor and map maker who often provided services to Portugal.
The “Skálholt Map”, whose first version dated to 1570, was printed in a 1590 book by Sigurður Stefánsson. It is the earliest attempt to combine cartographic knowledge of North America with the stories conveyed in the sagas that, unlike the Vinland map, is pretty much uncontested as being authentic. The first version was made in 1570 by Sigurd Stefánsson, a teacher in Skálholt, then an important religious and educational centre on Iceland. Stefánsson attempted to plot the American locations mentioned in the Vinland Saga on a map of the North Atlantic. Stefánsson’s original is lost; this copy dates from 1669, and was included in a description of Iceland by Biørn Jonsen of Skarsaa. The map is in the collection of the Danish Royal Library (Det Kongelige Bibliotek). In its southeast corner, the map shows Irland (Ireland) and Britannia, and to the north of both, the Orcades (Orkney Islands), Hetland (Shetland Islands), Feroe (Faroe Islands), Island (Iceland). Although we now know Greenland is an island, the Vikings thought it was part of North America. In the southwest corner is Promontorium Winlandiae (Promontory of Vinland). It was by examining the lattitude of the tip of this promontory compared to Ireland, and a comparison to modern maps, that prompted the successful archaeological investigations in 1960 at L’Anse Aux Meadows (51°N). An addendum in Latin gives a description of Greenland by Theodor Thorlacius and the plaque in the middle refers to the original map from 1570.
This by no means is a complete list of maps; I have picked the most famous maps and left others out. I have a list of links that you can use to learn more about the beautiful maps in history. As for Columbus, he did discover islands and some parts of the Americas but remained deluded that he had discovered the path to India. If the above material is true, the Columbus brothers were “out-scammed” by Amerigo Vespucci, who managed to get America named for himself. Both Portugal and Spain squandered the money from their discoveries, actually went into bankruptcy, and their colonies were cannibalized by the English, Dutch and French.
Ancient World Maps: http://ancientworldmaps.blogspot.com/
Cartographic Images: http://cartographic-images.net/CARTOGRAHIC_IMAGES.html
Florida, The Making of a State: http://www.broward.org/library/bienes/lii14001.
Portuguese in the US: http://www.loc.gov/rr/hispanic/portam/carte.html
Map History: http://www.maphistory.info/index.html maintained by Tony Campbell, former Map Librarian, British Museum
Karpeles Manuscript Museums: http://www.rain.org/~karpeles/
Online Karples maps: http://dkarpeles.com/maps-and-atlases/
Henry Davis: http://www.henry-davis.com/MAPS/
Behaim, Martellus and Columbus by Arthur Davies: http://www8.informatik.uni-erlangen.de/mappae/application/Texte/davies77.htm