Category Archives: Mapping the New World

Ink-Jet Wonders and Other Printed Curiosities

The appeal that was exercised by a newly discovered set of gores that arrived at Christie’s announced was considerable.  The map constituted one of the first mappings to show the place of America on the globe–and indeed to map the globe as a globe.  The considerable attention that the gores slated to go to auction in mid-December attracted must have lain not only in their rarity, but the cult of priority of the naming of place.  The gores exemplified the declarative role of mapping to designate place, as well as a geometric organization of global continuity shortly after the discovery of the new world, but it was hard to imagine that the appeal of the gores in our increasingly pixelated, pointillistic, and fragmented mediated sense of space was not in the solidity with which they seemed to embody “America,” both on the map and on a globe.

The gores were highly valued as the first image that mapped America–and assigned it a name–whose almost cultic prestige had grown allowed viewers view a watery western hemisphere, since described by antiquarians as the “birth certificate” of America, in an ahistorical but nineteenth-century fashion, for bestowing the name of the European navigator Vespucci on the continent that he had described in a set of letters that widely circulated in Europe from 1503, and provided a written account that oriented readers to to the New World, describing a vicarious sort of witnessing the unknown that expanded the demand for global maps as they were widely reprinted.   Amerigo Vespucci described the long shorelines of a New World  that allowed a distinctively modern way to view a rapidly expanded image of the inhabited world, and allowed Waldseemüller–even if the humanist cosmographer who had trained as a theologian rarely travelled beyond his town of St. Die, near Strasbourg, but exploited the printing press to reconcile Vespucci’s findings with precepts of map projection derived from cutting edge cartographic tools.  And when he adopted the format of the mathematician Apian to render the world on gores, he used the graphic techniques of projection to lend solidity to the first narrations of the New World.  So it was quite surprising that the forged copy of gores that almost made it to auction in 2017 belonged to the same visual culture of online images–the culture of image capture and digital reproductions–as what seemed a worm-eaten sheet of printed paper was found to be created by tools of digital photographic reproduction, with little human trace of an engraver’s hand, although they seemed strikingly similar to the long unknown image of a material rendering of the post-Colomban world.


MUNICH WALDSEEMULER in Peckham, 1504:1510pngUniversity Library of Munich, ULM Cim. 107#2. Courtesy of University Library of Munich

Indeed, the similarity between the online diffusion of the image and the reproduction of the fake seems a modern rewriting of the intense attention that Waldseemüller and his circle of geographers in St. Die embraced the tools of early modern engraving to design multiple woodcut maps in the first decades of the sixteenth century, in order to meet a fast-growing market for globes that lent legibility to the world.  But the new forms of legibility that the online reproductions prized–so distinct from the printed images of the early sixteenth century–seem something like a moral fable of the different levels of spatial legibility of different ages, if not two period eyes.  The gores that cosmographer Martin Waldseemüller and his St. Die circle had designed were printed in 1507 had been long prized as the earliest example of an identification of the New World as America, in honor of Vespucci.  In an elegant description of the entire surface of an earth as yet not fully known, but able to be mapped in a woodblock form, the gores adopt and incorporate aspects of recent engraved maps and nautical charts in a synoptic visual digest.  The gores form part of a distinctly cosmographic project of rendering the world on a graticule of parallels and meridians, and vaunting the adoption of an ancient global geometry for transposing the curvature of the inhabited surface of the globe to a sectional globe of two dimensions, despite their limited toponymy, and balance their comprehensive coverage with the treatment of the map as a canvas to advertise the new naming of America, expanding the map’s surface far beyond the manuscript tradition of Ptolemaic maps and orienting viewers to the predominantly watery surface of the world.




The single sheet that seemed early modern map gores for a short bit of time seemed to belong to the first records naming the continent after the navigator, and clearly gained their value as such as a piece of paper:  the announcement of a new discovery of the sectional rendering of the world’s surface by regular intervals of thirty degrees appeared to offer an early geographic primer modernizing Ptoleamic geography, based on the first nautical charts of the new world.  The attempt to chart global space for Renaissance readers who remained in Europe were long associated with the cosmographer Martin Waldseemüller, the mathematically-trained theologian and cartographer known for creating several global maps, and for writing one of the first treatises of cosmography to adopt Ptolemaic principles to explain and describe the principles for mapping the New World.  By announcing the adoption of a new set of tools as a new descriptive framework in a manner similar to his 1507 cosmographic wall-map, which unified the nautical charts of America Vespucci with a Ptolemaic framework of world-mapping; the sheet of map gores supersede traditional nautical charts in a form of world-making.

Indeed, the single sheet seemed to seek to promote universal geometric tools to unify an expanded global expanse:  the new sense of the “cumene” would not be recognized by Ptolemy or ancient mappers, and gave an expansive portion of its surface to oceanic expanse, registering a new conception of a terraqueous world.  The graphic image following Ptolemaic principles of projection incorporated Vespucci’s accounts and nautical maps in a new model of cosmographic knowledge, inviting readers to experience vicariously his travels to the New World, and to understand the greater value that he attributed to maps and cosmographical knowledge to arrive at this site across the ocean in another world:  much as Carlos Fuentes has recently offered an indelible picture of the epistemic paralysis of the monarch Don Felipe, a barely disguised version of Philip II, as a semi- autistic ruler doubting the existence of a new world that was not comprehended in the palace to which he has withdrawn in Terra Nostra (1975), a massive novel whose literary structure mirrored the tripartite structure of the palace Philip II commissioned to include maps of all the Spanish possessions, the embodiment of the globe on a set of twelve elegant map gores would condense and rebut such the imperial stance of utter disregard to the new world that possessed Fuentes in his novel.  The careful construction of the globe’s surface onto indices offer a global purview that might be called the first age of globalism.


1. Waldseemüller’s single sheet map condensed the cosmographic principles the he had followed in series of elegant wall-maps that foregrounded the artifice and difficulty of the composition of the world map.   Waldseemüller and his circle had actively promoted standards of global legibility, using Ptolemaic precepts in a triumphal manner to celebrate the power of naming, charting, and mapping new lands for European audiences that invited ways of telling, describing and narrating Europeans’ spatial relation to a new world.  The large wall-maps that he produced in over a thousand copies promoted modes of reading globalist relations  facilitated by copious textual cartouches and inventive decoration, that underscore its cosmographical nature as a product of writing, drawing, and design to affirm the growth of oceanic expanse that defined the continents.  The wall map was hardly free of what Edward Tufte might call “chart junk” on its exuberant margins, but conveyed tthe excitement of heralding a new graphic synthesis of a global map over which Vespucci presided in one lunette, adding continents of a new hemisphere to the known globe, offered a cartographic solution to a problem of ordering terrestrial space.


Vespucii On Map

Waldseemuller-Map-631Martin Waldseemüller, Universalis Cosmographia secundum Ptolomei Traditionem . . . . / Library of Congress



The image is no less than celebration of the new status of cosmographical arts that elevate the medium of engraved images to tools of global description.  If the twelve-sheet c wall maps Waldseemüller’s school composed, designed, and whose engraving they closely supervised set a new standard for the elevation of cartographical skill from a technical craft to a new model of knowing and seeing–and a way of making epistemological claims, as much as using transmitted forms, in ways that linked the art of mapping as a scribal technology to cultures of telling, describing, and demonstration, the wall maps invite viewer’s eyes to comprehend space outside a situated position.


Waldseemuller_map_2Martin Waldseemüller, Universalis Cosmographia secundum Ptolomei Traditionem . . . . / Library of Congress


In a counterpart to the large wall maps that he designed and sold, Waldseemüller expounded the modern precepts to orient one in space and synthesize global knowledge by parallels and meridians in his Introduction to Cosmography (1507).   The slim volume,  the basis for his identification with the unsigned gores, seven as a manifesto for the twelve-sheet engraved global wall map, over which preside busts of Ptolemy, the ancient geographer who formulated the mathematical precepts of terrestrial projection on a graticule, with America Vespucci, combined the modern experience of navigation with the ancient precepts of learning and naming place.   Waldseemüller himself never travelled far beyond his native Strasbourg, but invested the map with authority to communicate geographical knowledge as a token of modernity of embodying a global geographical knowledge, albeit a modernity now displaced by the grid.  Waldsemüller’s projection has the energetic displacement of the authority of a nautical chart, echoing how Vespucci declared his competency in his letter to arrive at the New World even “without the knowledge of sea charts” prized by navigators, being “more expert in navigation than all the pilots of the world.”   The gores staked a similar model of expertise of reckoning and calculating distance and place by a new matrix of latitude and longitude that they embody:  the preeminence of the graticule as an epistemological tools of global geography that expanded the scope and nature of geographical knowledge lasted some four hundred and eighty years until it being displaced by grids.  Indeed, the value that the map was readily assigned suggests its survival in a distinctly post-scribal culture of mapping.

Did the value that the auctioneers assigned the map gores reflect these grandiose knowledge claims?  The gores elegantly translated knowledge of the earth’s newly discovered hemisphere to indices the viewer could readily process and digest, foregrounding the new name that it proposed for the continent named after the Italian navigator.  But they assumed a new status in the age of digitized maps, and Google Earth images of global interconnectivity, which may have been paradoxically elevated by the newly antiquated image they acquired.  Rather than being sold as emblems of knowledge, the new image of the gores that Christie’s claimed to bring to public auction had gained an immeasurable status after the earlier auctioning of similar gores for above a million dollars, not to mention the unprecedented price that the United States Library of Congress agreed to pay in 2003 of $10 million for the sole surviving edition of the large wall map Waldseemüller had engraved, the one copy of the thousand-odd he had printed, of which it was something of the poorer cousin, but which had been widely touted as the “birth certificate” of America, and the map on which Waldseemüller had proposed using the name of the Florentine navigator Vespucci who had described the long coastlines of the New World in his printed letters.

The set of map gores, a complementary spherical map that Waldseemüller had described making, provided an early image of global totality that gave a similar dominance to the line–indeed, the geometrically determined line–to orient viewers to a global surface.  When the late historians of cartography David Woodward and J.B. Harley tersely defined the map in “purposely broad” terms, at the outset of the monumental History of Cartography, an extremely elegant series since expanded over multiple volumes, as “graphic representations that facilitate spatial understanding of the world of things, concepts, conditions, processes, or events in the human world,” they may have been thinking of the graphic lines of the gores as such a facilitation of spatial understanding.  For the gores process the encounter with the New world, the travels of the navigator, and the recovery of Ptolemaic precepts of world-mapping, and the naming of the newly discovered continents in the western hemisphere on a clearly graphic construction.  Woodward and Harley’s emphasis on “graphic representations” recuperated the ancient Claudius Ptolemy’s use the Greek verb  γράφειν (graphein), or “to write,” and Waldseemüller’s assimilation of that verb of the act of writing to engraving tools; it caused much revision, even by Woodward himself, of its lack of allowance for cross-cultural comparisons, but suggests a significance of writing systems as a mode of ordering space.  Waldseemüller appropriated the authority of the verb in print, giving the engraved line a deictic sense of displaying space–


Single Sheet UNM


Waldseemüller School, 1507 Globe Gores/Badische Landesbibliothek


–in a map of globular design of the sort that Woodward idealized as the culmination and embodiment of cartographical principles, in a globular map of the sort that was more readily defined in a more familiar globular form by 1583, here shown in two images of the same year in “universal rendering of the newly discovered parts of the world,” printed in Italian, or discovered parts of the world, which emphasize nautical travel as the basis for the incorporation of place on the globe, and reveal the increased scope of geographical exploration in the intervening eighty years.


Globular Italian Map Parte del Mondo Ritrovato 1583





More broadly, however, “graphein” might be understood as the trace of the human that orients themselves to the world, hand-drawn or manually rendered.  These were soon shown to be absent from the gores:  indeed, the blurring of the very lines of the gores that went to auction suggest that they belong to a new visual culture of scanned images and photographic reproduction.  The very traces of graphical operations were permuted and erased in new ways, as is the sense of a human presence, in ways that suggest the distance of our own visual culture from Waldseemüller’s world, in ways that the forger never intended.

In their groundbreaking History of Cartography, David Woodward and Brian Harley had celebrated the line as the means of graphical orientation, in what now seems an elegy to the art of printing.  An unforgettable image remains clear in my head of David Woodward in his basement, in Madison, WI, running maps off a letterpress printer, and hanging them to dry on strings by clothespins, and his love of the ink applied to the engraved plate to present a precise rendering of space.  But the fake set of gores that reached auction were not printed or drawn, let alone in the Renaissance or during Waldseemüller’s life, but probably printed some five hundred years later, from a scan of the map in the James Ford Bell Library’s website.

The gores that arrived at auction this December suggest far less of a clear trace of a human hand, and perhaps belong to a different visual culture of online images.  Indeed, the astronomical value that the single sheet was invested may be a symptom of our entrance into a different visual culture of mapping–indeed, the sheet that seemed to be valued at more than a sheet of gold of the same size suggests the fetishization of the paper map in an era of web-based mapping, and mobile GPS.  The fake gores suggestedthe translation of Ptolemaic terms to a visual culture that privileges the dot and the grid as a basis for orientation, rather than the engraved line, but where the aura of the writing of space persists, and the paper map fetishized in a world that increasingly relies exclusively on mediated digitized images.  The set o fraudulent gores is itself something of a post-modern artifact,–less concerned with the authorities of narratives of discovery, but able to admit the false authority of the map as objective, and almost ready to accept the value of its aura even if it was only an image grab printed on old paper.

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Mapping New Worlds on Eggshells: Adventures in the Artifice of Renaissance Map-Making

We have learned to expect to pause as Google Maps draw boundary lines, extending to new tiles which soon take forms bounded by in clearcut lines across uniformly flatly colored quite static blocks, as data streams materialize forms from blurs that delineate highways, city blocks, state boundaries, and mountains in gray, green, tan, or light blue–a poor surrogate reality that strongly contrasts to the vivid ways we experience space in early modern maps and globes.  The convincing nature of the watery globe was far more pronounced in an era when the ocean provided the only medium for global travel, to be sure, and the immediacy of rendering oceanic space far more of a concern of global mapmaking.  (Indeed, for a more extensive consideration of map authorship and the concerns of its representation of oceans, see my post on its mapping of ocean waters.)  The  medium of the woodcut presented unique challenges of mapping the circumambient oceans, not defined by clear routes or itineraries, but as a unique medium of travel, whose curving lines that lapped the shores of inhabited lands–




or individual lines that vaguely echo, in wave-like form, shorelines of European nations in this map from the late fifteenth-century Nuremberg Liber Chronicarum: Das Buch der Croniken und Geschichten, just predating the discovery of the New World.


Ocean curves.png



Unlike the on-screen conjuring of a demarcated space, the design of early modern maps invites detailed examination.   This undated miniature globe, engraved with considerable care on a two conjoined halves of two ostrich eggs, the size of a grapefruit, invites viewers to sail on the seas that swirl around a record global totality as something like a surrogate for actual world travel, its carefully worked details leave a clear trace of the hand, if not a phenomenological experience of keenly recorded sensory properties.


Ostrich Egg Globe (1504)

The engraving of a newly imagined expanse reported in marine charts created quite distinct operations of visualizing a newly materialized space–it displays one of the first maps to be printed that showed the New World’s form and recalls  the earliest printed images of North America.  The islands of “Spagnola [Hispaniola]” and “Isabella”, barely balanced with the huge area that it assigns to the Land of Brazil, or “Terra Sanctae Crucis” in something like an antipodal balancing act of continents around the equator, opposed in counterpoint to the Eurasian expanse.

New World in Ostrich_egg_globe

If the opposition of these continents in the ostrich-egg globe betrays significant cosmographical learning, the map itself reflects curiosity in the first mapped images of the New World, and a particular care to the definition of the coastlines of the newly found land masses we now call continents.  The exquisite care and delicate relief of the globe’s surface in this delicate construction made from two ostrich eggs has been recently dated to 1504 by its shell-density, based on a CT-Scan.  If the date can be ever established conclusively, the globe is one of the first images of the New World to have migrated from Portuguese marine charts to a particularly skilled level of craftsmanship, predating some of the known bronze globes of terrestrial expanse it resembles;  the image of Europe, Asia, Africa and the Land of Brazil could be scanned in analogously crisp detail to known early sixteenth-century globes and printed map-gores.  Indeed, the range of graphic tools engravers developed for embellishing the surface of maps set something of a standard for scanning land and sea, as their exquisite tones of shading increased the persuasive range of graphic forms that the anonymous artisan who made this eggshell map exploited to delineate the inhabited world.

The artifice of employing eggshells as a surface of cartographical rendering–indeed, the noble curiosity of ostrich egg shells, an animal recently kept in aristocratic zoos in northern Italy–suggests the precious status that was invested in this curious map as a communication of geographic learning.  The anonymous artist of the recently discovered egg-shell globe converted the braided lines of oceanic expanse and peaked mountains from engraved maps into material form.  But to preserve the sphericity of the globe, the artisans who fashioned the globe joined bisected lower ends of two ostrich egg shells to engrave–unlike the stylized wax-resist used in the Ukrainian art of pysanky, or the common painting of images on ostrich eggs–the surface of the egg that exploited its curved surface and ability to hold fine detail–as in the contemporary artisan Patric Allaert, who specializes in their manual engraving.

The ends of the ostrich egg’s shell provided the curved surface of a record of terrestrial unity:  if the recent claims to date the eggshell to 1504 are correct, based on the dating of density, the artifact would the first image of the New World is to believed, it suggests the huge investment of artifice in picturing this new-found world.  The accuracy of determining the age of the shell by a CT scan of bone-density may well be questioned, given that the loss of 10% per century seems more of an approximation than a device for exact dating.  But the egg of an ostrich was of course often valued for its size as a decorative object in elite settings, although the medium seems innovatively used by the creator of the globe in order to create a spherical surface by using only its rounded half to image the spherical earth.

Together with the roughly contemporary discovery of a new image of the terraqueous world that derived from the globes of Martin Waldseemüller, the media buzz around the eggshell globe may elide the explosion of material cultures of picturing global expanse that emerged at the start of the 16th century:  indeed if Waldsemüller’s twelve-sheet 1507 world map is known in only one example, the newly discovered gores offer the first evidence of their reprinting.  Their difference from four sets of printed gores, in all of which its segments are surrounded by a thickly-inked black boundary-line, and unlike them describe the equatorial line, the place of the Malibar coast revised in the gore segments, as the shape of the island of Madagascar, which, together with changes in the shading of oceans and some of lettering, suggest that their engraver made intentional alterations on a new woodblock to attract new readers, as well as to better approximate its cartographical rendering.  Chet van Duzer has argued the gores reflect continued experimentation in the format of mapping a legible record of the newly discovered world–and his shifting conception of how the map works to process a spatial information from different sources in a coherent whole–comprehending nautical discoveries in a framework for processing expanse.

map4n-3-webULM Cim. 1072. Courtesy University Library of Münich

This set of gores, only discovered bound between two other volumes in the holdings of the University of Munich, suggests that it met a growing demand for the assembly of globes that included the most recent information of nautical charts.  The gores were made to be readily affixed to spheres of similar diameter to the eggshell globe–the line distinguishing the “Diameter Globi” reminds us of the material use that this flysheet met, and the flexibility of the medium of a globe in displaying spatial information, and is unlike the four other sheets of gores Waldseemüller designed which are known to have survived.  The creation of gores to map the world suggested the popularity and currency of creating a comprehensive global map, however, even in an age of terrestrial projections:  if we valorize the Ptolemaic precepts that the ancient astronomer set forth for transferring the curvature of the earth’s inhabited surface to a plane, whose indices guarantee the preservation of uniform scale, distance, and spatial orientation, the embodiment of that space as a globe was as much of a concern for early modern map-users:  the “gores” designed by Martin Waldseemüller provide clear evidence, if they rarely survive, of the demand for making such “self-made globes” in the early modern period to visualize terrestrial expanse.

Gores Of Waldseemuller, 1507

Indeed, the Munich gores testify to the popularity of assembling the globe, even in an age associated with the multiplication of alternate versions of terrestrial projections.

Munich GOres

The eggshell globe responds to similar problems of rendering expanse.  Although terrestrial globe were classical forms, the gores present and substantiate a sense of terrestrial globe as a shift in the transmission of mapped information, as revolutionary as that from scroll to codex, that changed not only the experience of ordering a map’s surface but the reading of maps as registers of space–and tactile experience of a map.  The ordering of the surface of the globe provided a way to communicated the dimensio orbis in relation to both the misura and the pictura represented in maps.

Beyond the suggestion of measuring terrestrial expanse in  printed map-gores, the estheticized image of global virtuosically demonstrates its own artifice to its viewers as a record of global continuity on a spherical surface, ingeniously created by joining halves of eggshells at the equatorial line.  As much as it reflects a humanist culture, the globe is embedded in habits of collecting curiosities like ivory, ostriches or feathers at Renaissance courts that reference the exotic provenance of information mapped on nautical charts that distill an unknown expanse, even as they converted them to a new formal language of scrutiny and examination.

Arabia and Africa EGGSHELL GLOBE

The globe is a miniature, but the size or ostrich eggs were valued as sites of wonder in ecclesiastic settings–ostrich eggs were described as hung in church as mirabilia by Girolamo Cardano, the naturalist Conrad Gesner, and Sebastian Münster, as in this detail from the altarpiece by Piero della Francesca known as the Brera Palla–and were treasured as items gilded in silver, as both natural wonders and curiosities.

piero's eggPiero della Francesca, detail from Brera Palla

The engraving of the surface of the eggshell appears invested with an expressive quality absent in many contemporary maps.  Especially intriguing is the adoption of early techniques that engravers had begun to use to indicate oceanic waves–similar in their delineation of individually cresting waves to the earliest of Ptolemaic world maps– engraved with painstaking care into the shell of the egg, rather than the stippled seas in later engravings, which took an intense patience even greater than the etching of defined coastlines, mountain ranges, and riverine mouths in the elegantly carved eggshells.

We do not know who created these lines, but the exquisite care to these bodies of water in the globe invested it with a strikingly concrete presence.  Indeed, the engraving of the sea is distinct from other engraved images, and creates an oceanic surface unlike either nautical charts or terrestrial maps–these cresting rows of dense waves create a remarkable sense of palpability, even if the globe did not distinguish the oceanic expanse by name.


The considerable illusionistic detail reflects the unique provenance of this globe, whose historical details are so far unknown.  Ostrich eggs were often collected in late fifteenth-century courts, known either from courtly menageries as much as curiosities of nature, and the precious notion of the surface of this map is reflected in the detailed craft of its engraving.   Indeed, the virtuosic removal of calcium carbonate from the shell seems to mediate an early account of the “Mundus Novus” and other regions to a courtly audience; so does the legend, also familiar from other bronze globes, or, near the equator, the legend “H[i]c sunt dracones“–rendered “Here be dragons” by most–in ways that underscored the evocative or linguistically performative nature of the map, as if conjuring newly discovered space for its viewer:  the braided nature of the ocean waves lead the viewer’s eyes across the braided waves engraved on its curved surface as if on a voyage across an open nautical expanse with a sense of wonder, and admiration for its artifice.

It is difficult to know the degree to which this globe was intended to be consulted as a geographic record.  The apparent smudge marks over central Europe and over Brittany in this careful transference of the world map to  conjoined halves of two conjoined ostrich eggs’ shells may suggest its display in either city.  But the provenance of this unsigned and most unusual of cartographical media is unclear, although its design reflects the popularity of the line-drawn engraved map.  The globe elegantly combines landscape with the format of mapped space to lend material solidity to mapped space very rare for the early sixteenth century, destined for an especially sophisticated audience.

But the engraved egg suggests both an awareness of recent engravings–the prime format for the reproduction of early maps–and is dated by its owner, based on a CT scan, to c. 1500, and for him exactly to the year 1504.  Despite a clear absence of parallels or meridians on the globe, whoever owned or designed it must have tacitly understood the accuracy of its illustration of terrestrial proportions.  Although the appearance of the globe–and that of several printed gores–has been tied to the Florentine mapmaker Henricus Martellus, who worked in Florence, its graphic syntax and conventions reveal close study of engravings, and the recreation of a legible record of the inhabited world based on clear interest in nautical charts around the years 1504-5, when news of the “Mundus Novus” first noted in letters Amerigo Vespucci wrote to Medicean patrons about his voyages with Columbus in a pamphlet of 1503.  If the ‘argument’ of the spherical globe is in part to communicate the continuity of terraqueous expanse–


–and orient viewers by conjoining naturalistic detail and  a toponymy written in block lettering echoing humanist type.

The record is strikingly different from the sort of symbolic emblem of a world map that Martellus designed in miniature, c. 1490, where Eurasia is surrounded by waters and an almost fanciful ring in which proliferate multi-colored oceanic isles.


There is something is far more tactile about the elaborate etching of a world map on the material of ostrich egg shells that foregrounds oceans which link the world’s surface as a surface of travel, which no doubt reflects the impact of engraved images to understand the surface of mapped space:  in this delicate curious artifact, painstakingly performed lest the shells (no doubt in limited supply) should crack, would, if the shell’s announced dating to 1504, also make its mapping New World islands of Hispaniola and the Land of Brazil prior to the date traditionally assigned to the first synthesis of Columbus’ discoveries on a printed world-map.

While we wait further investigation about its composition and construction, the globe’s intensive preparation from nautical charts might cause one to rethink the role of the map as a legible surface and a decorative form, and the audiences who read maps of the New World in the first age of printing.


The clear coastal definition of New World islands and Brazil’s contours and riverine mouths in this most material of maps–about the size of a grapefruit with a diameter of just 4.33 inches (or about 11 cm.)–reveals the transfer of forms of Portuguese nautical charts to the decorative arts, and to a new context of both reading and cartographical artifice.  This is evident in the intensive attention to transferring mapping forms to different surfaces attentive to their three-dimensionality in the small globe:  if it did not note terrestrial expanse on a Ptolemaic graticule of meridians and parallels, it met clear expectations for a modern form of mapping expanse on tacit rather than explicit indices, noting with considerable craft the continent South America–“Land of Brazil”–from the coasts to its rivers’ paths, after contemporary manuscript nautical charts.  But the globemaker converted nautical charts through the labored etching of a landscape map of considerable precision, suggestive of the heightened expectations for exact terrestrial maps.  So much is evident from the engraver’s artifice at rendering coastal shorelines and suggestive landscape iconography.

Ostrich Egg Mapped Expanse

The utter absence in the globe of clear parallels or meridians–and the absence of what might be called a culture of instrumental reading of calibrated measurement–raises questions about the circulation of mapped information for reading publics, and the acceptance of tacit indices for reading their content.  For the globe clearly addressed an audience knowledgeable of the proportional and uniform arrangement of terrestrial space on a map’s surface, despite their absence.  The ostrich-egg globe was placed on the world stage by the Belgian independent scholar Stefaan Missinne, who announced in August 2013 it had been purchased at the 2012 London Map Fair by an undisclosed owner, and vouched for its authenticity as an early cartographical record that predated the humanist geographic project of Waldseemüller and his learned patron Ringmann, which led to the first naming of America in a printed map.  (Missinne’s report to the Washington Map Society seems tantamount to a tease, given the payment in 2003 by the Library of Congress of some 2 million dollars for what was believed the earliest map to differentiate clearly “America” from Asia in 1507 as separate landmasses, whose 2007 delivery occasioned its delivery by Chancellor Angela Merkel in an occasion of state.)

The prominent designation “Mundus Novus” on the eggshell globe suggests a slightly earlier date, the very title of the 1503 treatise that Amerigo Vespucci dedicated to Lorenzo Piero de’ Medici, describing “the things most worthy of notice and of being remembered . . . in this new world,” based on his 1501 voyage with Columbus–a letter later Waldseemüller subsequently converted to mapped form.  Should Stefaan Missine correctly date the globe, it would be constructed soon after the printing of the treatise describing the voyage to a new continent “more populous  . . . than our Europe or Asia or Africa, and even more temperate.”  The globe named the region the “Terra Santa Crucis,” to promise the conversion of its inhabitants, in the manner of a Florentine planisphere bearing the date 1507 of Francesco Rosselli–to which I will return.

The discovery of the globe raises fascinating questions about its ties to Renaissance cultures of engraving and mapping, as well as to contemporary practices of accurately transferring the surface of the map to a perfectly spherical globe.  It also raises questions about its relation to the material cultures of map making.  Missinne ventured to tie the globe to the workshop of that Renaissance engineer Leonardo da Vinci, based on suggestive visual evidence as well as the similarities of its detailed rendering of oceans to Leonardo’s drawings of water; despite the lack of interest in details of New World geography in Leonardo’s work, the practice of engraving raises fascinating questions of the migrations of maps to other plastic media.  Leonardo was not skilled himself in engraved images, and far preferred manuscript design, he did ask his assistant and heir Melzi reproduce the images for a planned treatise of anatomy with images in copperplate–rather than wood–that reveal some technical familiarity with engraved images, even if he was not known to use these techniques:  the cryptic referencing of one comment in his Notebooks reveal an appreciation of its value in a book of artistic anatomy.  He ventured in making some nature prints, scholars as Karen Reeds have argued, in ways that evidence deep interest in print as a medium by which to register local detail that could be readily reproduced.

The capital lettering of the toponyms in the eggshell globe clearly echoed a humanist typeface, and more credibly matches the skill of the virtuosic Florentine map engraver, Francesco Rosselli, known for expansive views of cities such as Florence from the 1480s, as well as his delineation of the very first oval projection of the New World–a map which is striking because, as the eggshell globe, it included many of the discoveries of Columbus’ third voyage, and cast the islands of the same shape as Hispaniola and Isabella as the “HISPAN[A]E INSUL[A]E.”  The veduta of Florence exemplifies Rosselli’s dedication to cartographical detail as well as to prepare an icon of the city, whose popularity was evident in this later reproduction of the Roselli view, now situated in a nicely shaded topographic landscape:

Rosselli designed the oval projection that first situated the New World and southern continent for readers in copperplate.  The unique oval projection clearly imitated the form of a spherical earth, expanding upon the three formats of projection Ptolemy had described to offer a geometric projection that he accommodated to depict the entire surface of the globe in one bounded image.  The projection exploited both the straight parallels of longitude to exploit the legibility of print to prepare New World toponomy and emphasize the continuity of ocean travel to the New World:  viewers find  the “Terra S. Crucis sive Mundus Novus,” identical to the eggshell globe and Lenox Globe, below the “isole hispane,” in a visualization of the New World closely analogous to that which Vespucci had described.


Rosselli’s oval world map resonates with the eggshell map not only in its impressive representation of spherical unity, reflecting in its toponomy and the distribution of islands the content of the eggshell globe; in much the same manner, the globe mirrors attention to the detail of single-line engraving and clearly delineated humanistic capital letters.  Rosselli’s application to engraved maps, now believed both substantial and sustained, the elegance of Rosselli’s carefully engraved elegant woodcut lines and experimentation with copperplate engraving make him a more likely candidate than Leonardo to have experimented with the spherical eggshell globe, and indeed in imagining the representation of terrestrial continuity as a surface that viewers could scan with equal attention to its details, much as he seems to have constructed multi-sheet images of cities, much as the detailed image of Florence above allowed viewers to linger over its best-known buildings–if this “Chain View” was constructed after Rosselli’s multi-sheet map, it preserves its conceit of comprehending the city in its totality.  The global view, as if of an “exploded” globe, uses an oval projection of his own devise to show the word’s surface as it lay upon a globe, to illustrate the relation of the New World islands that Vespucci had described across the Atlantic ocean and did so in ways that inexplicably magnified the possibility of Portuguese territory in the New World that had been earlier adjudicated at the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas, which granted Portugal sovereignty of lands within a meridian that was effectively drawn 370 leagues west of the Cape Verde islands, already within Portuguese sovereignty.

The Florentine master-engraver dedicated himself to mapmaking after Ptolemaic criteria so heavily to make his relation to the eggshell globe more plausible:  Rosselli’s mastery of single-line engraving, the close resemblance of mountains engraved on the globe and Rosselli’s inclusion of mountainous topography, and his use of dedication to elevating the status of engraving through sustained involvement in the design of maps–evident in both the oval projection and an illuminated version that derived from an imprint of the very same engraving block.  Indeed, his experimentation with the dramatic coloration of the map reveal a blending of naturalism and cartography that is analogous to the eggshell globe.


The detailed rendering of the eggshell-globe reflects the increased interest of preparing maps as forms of graphic evidence and persuasion in a surface readily scanned.  The globe is a far less fulsome statement of cartographical expertise than the wall-map of Martin Waldseemüller, whose twelve sheets printed on rag cloth paper survive in few examples save the one discovered in recalls the intensively detailed workmanship early globes that must be examined in relation to the spherical representation of spatial continuity on the eggshell globe, and the extent to which the eggshell globe may have served as a model for other early globes–all, curiously, made for globes of about a three-inch diameter, or one and a half palmi.   The close attention to naturalistic design of the ocean’s face and use of block capitals of Bembo lettering to note toponyms links Rosselli’s oval projection and the eggshell globe and its apparent cast, the Lenox Globe.

The hollow copper Lenox Globe of a diameter of 4.4 inches (11.2 cm.), identical to the eggshell globe, foregrounded the novelty of importing information from nautical charts in ways that parallel the novelty of the eggshell globe:  the oddity in that globe of naming most of Asia as “India”–and locating “Mundus Novus” as South America–suggest a cartographical confusion of transmission as much as laxity, and a confusion in naming:  it similarly noted “Libya Interoir [sic].”   The surface of this curiosity, discovered in a Parisian antique shop in the mid-nineteenth century and kept as a toy for several years, also uses a humanistic script to note places and regions and a landscape iconography–similar to the most elegant Ptolemaic codices.  The apparently identical showcasing of the newly discovered islands on the Lenox and eggshell globe clearly link them to the design of an identical cartographer, eager to press a striking argument of terraqueous continuity to an interested audience.


psnypl_map_242u_254b352a6aLenox Globe; courtesy New York Public Library

In sharp contrast, the far less topically detailed, smaller gilded “Jagiellonian” globe, which served as an ornament to a clock, offered a more schematic rendering of a globe and did not offer such possibilities of close reading; if derived from the stars, is distinctly scored with apparent parallels and meridians that highlight the transposition of the earth to a gridded surface and Ptolemaic artifice of crafting a terrestrial projection, but lack enumeration:

JagellonianJagiellonian Globe

Such globes are both of impressive craftsmanship, ordered on clear parallels and meridians.  The so-called Jagiellonian Globe engraved in metal is of smaller diameter than the Lenox Globe, its diameter just 7.35 cm.  Its exacting craftsmanship mirrors and seems informed by the rendering of the New World on twelve engraved sectioned “gores” that have been credited to the French geometrician Louis Boulengier of Alby, circa 1516–the gores, which some argued were only placed in Waldseemüller’s treatise of cosmography, and came to be regarded as part of his treatise, processed cartographical knowledge of a New World, which offered the ability to comprehend a similar offered a slimmer image of South America for ready consultation, with a considerably clearer toponymy than the Lenox Globe or the ostrich egg-globe that may well be the model from which it seems to have been cast–as is certainly suggested by their identical features.

The five surviving sheets of gores that survive as independent flysheets–below first in a modern reconstruction and then a recently discovered individual sheet of twelve sections–are rare, but suggest an early market for globes as symbolic forms to organize and process space–if not models for crafting miniatures like the Lenox and Jagiellonian globes.

1506 Boulangier Gores NYPL


The decorative globes suggests broad familiarity with forms of publishing maps, and an interest in creating a material image of measured expanse.  Their similarities also suggest the potential role of the eggshell globe–or a lost prototype which might be its model–in the transmission of information about the New World.  Although the eggshell globe is claimed by Dr. Missinne to have been produced near Florence, and dated with somewhat astounding accuracy to c. 1505, when a number of world maps based on nautical charts circulated in the city, the eggshell globe may indeed suggest that a far broader circulation of geographic images occurred than what has survived–and indeed that the globes displayed a comparable claims to accuracy to the famous Lenox Globe, previously dated only with a quite approximate estimate.

The striking similarities in the Lenox globe and the eggshell model reveal them to be from the same model if not copies–the strong similarities make a compelling case that the eggshell globe constituted a model for casting such globes–although written evidence of their existence has not been encountered, and no comparable evidence of a globe cast from the “eggshell” prototype, which has itself only been recently made known, is known to exist.  Both of these curious near-identical globes identify but one ocean between Europe and Asia, noting South America (the Land of Brazil), and place, the “Lenox” globe in the New York Public Library notes, north of Rio De La Plata, modern-day Hispaniola, Cuba, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico from nautical charts, rendered in the Renaissance toponymy–Isabel; Spagnola; Terra Sancta Crucis; Terra de Brazil–at angles identical to their position on the eggshell globe that confirm suspicion that one is indeed a cast of the other, and the eggshell globe the original from which the below image was cast in two halves, later assembled:


Particularly striking is that neither globe makes note of the equatorial line–a crucial concept in cosmographical learning–although the form of the globe clearly gestures to it–and neither map notes the Treaty of Tordesillas.

Each of these globes attest to deep curiosity in scanning the surface of the map as a power over space, and a transferring of maps on a globe, predating Waldseemüller’s placement of “America” as a separate and distinct continent in his majestic twelve-sheet wall map of 1507, whose measured indices set a new standard for the functions of a map’s face and design as well as its cosmographical argument for terrestrial continuity.


The coastline of this rendering of a thin “America,” firmly located in one hemisphere, details a hydrographic record more closely than can be detected in the above, and a prominent naming of the “new” continent in large capital letters of humanistic script:

Detail of MW's World Map, courtesy Library of Congress

The first two copper globes have been tied to a tradition of world-mapping that is more ornamental than humanistic, but responded to a similar elevation of the artifice of mapping as a basis for transcribing terrestrial unity.  The engraved toponymy of the spherical conjoined shells in fat suggests a complex translation of nautical charts and cartographical forms into ‘new media’ of powerful symbolic roles as dense compilations of geographic information, probably for an audience distinct from the detail of the larger wall-map.

Waldseemüller is often credited for synthesizing a Ptolemaic model to measure the global distances and Columbus’ practice of mapping Portugal’s relation to the New World, fashioning a solution between the calculation of terrestrial expanse.  If these two miniature globes accommodate the form of Brazil, the ostrich-egg globe suggests that the interest in such maps had migrated to courtly audience with a detail far beyond the twelve-sheet projection of the sort included in Waldseemüller’s treatise.


But more than responding to the sort of cartographical expertise that Waldsemüller communicated, the eggshell map seemed to orient viewers not only by its sphericity, but the clear legibility of its toponomy–whose clear legibility provide viewer with the most prominent orientating signs.

Although the cartographical location of “America” is occupied by two isolated islands of “Spagnola” on the ostrich-egg globe, but the discovery most delicate of globes was created at the same time as the first engraved maps of the New World’s novelty and predating most other known printed wall-maps, long studied as offering the first images of America.  The set of twelve gores, if unsigned, are regularly read as part of the learned geographer’s “Universalis cosmographie descriptio” of 1507–whose one note of plain celebration was printed on the reverse of the fold-out gores read as part of the book where he described a new world, “surrounded on all sides by ocean;” on the verso of the fold-out gores that were included in the booklet, he told readers modestly that “the purpose of this little books is to write a sort of introduction to the whole world which we have depicted on a globe and on a flat surface.  The Globe I have limited in size, but the map is larger.”  But the eggshell globe seems to show an interest both in the artifice of creating a record of nature–witnessed in the detail dedicated to the rendering of oceanic expanse–and the legibility of expanse.  How did the eggshell globe relate to a broader material culture of globe-making, or the gores themselves?  Further examination of the globe may reveal whether the meridian drawn at the Treaty of Tordesillas to divide Spanish and Portuguese possessions in the New World and separates the “Terra di Brazil” was an intended construction.  But the viewer is primarily oriented by the globe-maker’s adoption of Vespucci’s exact toponyms.

Though not following a self-consciously Ptolemaic form, the Lenox globe vaunts its own modernity, noting “Spagnolla” and “Mundus novus” (Land of Brazil) in places identical to the eggshell globe offer some testimony of the novelty modern tools provided craftsmen as a means to process relations of terrestrial expanse among informed viewers that were invested with recognized epistemological claims–if not a common ancestor map.  Even while not measuring global expanse on a grid of parallels or meridians, the eggshell globe showcased the novelty of recent Columban discoveries.


The rare number of such maps that have been found have an iconic status and laconic texts makes any discovery of a new cartographical rendering of the New World an occasion for comment–in large part because they can only make us wonder what sort of meaning they had for their readers, and how much they confronted problems of noting the circumference or size of the terrestrial globe or of reconciling ancient authorities with the Columban discoveries.

To be sure, the medium of engraving this newly mapped space seems in its very presence communicates the value that early geographical maps had for their readers and audiences as subjects of discussion.  For the prominent place that they give to an image of exotic lands that were known as they were described in travel accounts as that of Marco Polo or the Franciscan William of Rubruck, from Arabia to Japan to Africa, suggest little concern for drawing boundary lines or positions of cities so much as vague regions of provenance–as the appearance on this globe of the inscription in its perhaps earliest form in Eastern Inda, Hc svnt dracones, “Here lie dragons”–the legend cast in the copper Lenox Globe, previously dated c. 1510, and the slightly smaller gilded so-called Jagiellonian Globe thought to be of the same era–a phrase now retained as motto of Wired’s MapLab.

The phrase has been taken to evoke the persuasive powers of maps to define a region, and indeed to serve as a surface to mark the boundaries of one’s work.  The phrase was long taken as tacit acknowledgement of unexplored or particularly dangerous territories,  and as an evocative inscription seems to derive from the 1879 “discovery” of the Lenox globe.  Even if ancient authorities from Pliny the Elder and Solinus note “snakes” in the southern regions of Africa, and the Roman “Peutinger Map” notes the sites of the birth of scorpions, elephants, and dog-headed peoples (cenocephalous beings), these regions were noted with rarity on the surface of maps.  Even as these maps expressed considerable curiosity about the borders of the inhabited known world, reminding viewers “in his locis elephanti nascuntur“, “in his locis scorpiones nascuntur” and “in his locis cenocephali nascuntur“–the c. 1300 Erbsdorf map even noted a “dragon [draco]” in south-east Africa–the “Here be Dragons” formulation suggests a far more fanciful description of space than the Lenox or eggshell globe must have carried when they were made.  Indeed, the “dracones” have been linked in other globes to the cannibals in the Kingdom of Dagroians that Marco Polo described.

To be sure, the foreign was often measured by monstrosity: Olaus Magnus’ 1516 Carta Marina places sea monsters in the North Sea.  But the location of the warning on the face of this map is strikingly identical in its location to the Lenox globe.  The legend’s placement may suggest the descriptive ends that the globe served for ordering space, even if it lacked clear metric indices to situate the detailed contours of continents in the manner of printed maps.  Indeed, the Lenox globe, found in the late nineteenth century, was only placed in an armillary sphere in the 1930s; its situation of oceans bears considerable distortion of longitude, despite considerable latitudinal accuracy.  Revealing animating interest in modern cartographical forms, the globe noted both “Mundus Novus” [New World] and “Terrae Sanctae Crucis” [Land of the Holy Cross]–as the French-made gilded copper Jagiellonian Globe–to communicate its considerable sense of orienting readers to the novelty of rendering a global geographic expanse:


It has long been noted that the spherical hollow globe whose diameter is 11.2 cm. (4.4 inches) reveals little influence of Walseemüller’s 1507 world map that first named America as a separate region, but prominently noted islands discovered in Columbus’ second voyage–described by Vespucci–and a “Terra di Brazil.”  (The armature in which it appears was used to display it within the New York Public Library, but the globe was not earlier associated with it.)  Dr. Missinne dated the conjoined shells of ostrich eggs to 1504 based on their relative integrity; although the precision of dating the integrity of an eggshell raises eyebrows, the proposed date would make the globe the earliest to situated New World islands on a map, if not a model for the multiple globes–and gores–of similar dimensions.  If not a sister-globe to the copper Lenox globe, which may well have been cast from it, the eggshell globe may constitute an original version of a Globe long believed the first ever made:  if so, its historical significance demands investigation, with special attention to the inventive properties it assumed as a quite plastic communication of detailed geographical knowledge.

Ostrich Egg Globe (1504)

The ostrich-egg-globe provided a material rendering of the inhabited world that gave considerable concreteness to its more exotic regions, lending each region a solidity detailed with landscape views.  Notwithstanding limited accuracy of measurement in the carefully etched shorelines, it has a wonderful solidity and materiality about the engraved surface of the egg-shell globe in such compelling detail, which suggest a deep investment in the legibility of the globe’s expanse.  The humanistic capital letters engraved with exactitude upon the surface of two halves of ostrich egg shells, cut and rejoined along the equatorial line:  much as the copper halves of the Lenox globe are two conjoined hemispheres, tied together by a string from each pole, the spherical globe emphasized the equatorial line as a basis to assemble its etched surface, but showed a wonderfully detached “Hispaniola,” lightly floating northwards of a bulky Brazil.  (It’s interesting that Missinne attempted to tie the globe to Leonardo da Vinci’s school–if not to his person–although from what we know of his life, Leonardo never engraved, though he requested his assistant prepare engraved images of the human body’s anatomy in copperplate, rather than wood, revealing his familiarity with the medium.)  The globe fits within a known cartographical tradition that was perhaps accessible to Leonardo–indeed, the majority cartographical models available in early sixteenth century Europe were diffused by engravings, either in wood or, more rarely at this point, copperplate.

Although the image of the Americas is but a set of islands above the vast expanse of the ‘other continent’ to the south, the detailed shoreline and vaguely mountainous interior of the modern South American emphasize a clear sense of materiality as much as foreignness–much as the possession of the globe seems intentionally designed to communicate.  Unlike the large wall maps that distill similar cartographical sources, the sense of expanse is not abstracted, but has a solidity, even on the airy eggshell surface, as a commodity and an object of treasure that would be at home in a cabinet of curiosity; the globe included Japan, Latin America. Brazil and Arabia, as if to note the provenance of other wonders, as much as to communicate the accurate measurement of a global expanse.  The assemblage of global space is unlike the stippled ocean of the 1507 Ptolemaic world map or the indication of shorelines in the 1511 Venetian world map of Sylvanus, both of which suggested the curvature of the world in engravings that clearly referenced the rendering of expanse on a spherical globe’s surface, as well as a Ptolemaic format of map-projection.

Sylvanus Clima

The Venetian edition of Sylvanus magnified Brazil’s coastline disproportionate to the islands of Hispaniola, exaggerating its dependence on nautical charts, to suggests a material entirety and completeness, an influential attempt to expand the place of the Americas in the surface of the inhabited world, using Portuguese charts that noted Africa’s circumnavigation; the world map of the cartographer and illuminator Johannes Ruysch, may draw from voyages on English ships, and map Newfoundland in relation to the New World.

Ruysch world map

In each of these individual instances, the Ptolemaic format of projection emphasizes its rendering of nautical expanse in this hand-colored copy of a two-page terrestrial projection, and gave far more accuracy to the coastlines of Africa and South America, which its publisher praised as “painstaking . . . in delineating the globe[‘s surface]” and skilled for its artifice, suggesting not only the mechanical construction of the planisphere but its knowledge of the proportional relations among its regions and parts, and relations between its meridianal zones, or tropics, and Ptolemaic indices of terrestrial projection, that situated the image within a strongly lettered tradition.


Or the 1511 map of Ptolemy’s Geography, also incorporating Portuguese sea charts, Sylvanus adapted Ptolemaic artifice by using bending the graticule to distribute nautical discoveries on the measured curvature of earth’s surface in a compelling distribution of spatial relations, made extra legible by its use of two colors of ink–but closely tied the manufacturing of the global map to a written tradition of Ptolemaic geography:


The ostrich-egg globe especially contrasts to the triumphalism of his wall-map of four by eight feet, or the reduction of the expanse of the inhabited world in the gores Waldsemüller first designed in 1507, just after the proposed date of the ostrich-globe, as graphic forms to assemble rudimentary globes of meridians and parallels, and which were reprinted in a second edition, viewable below.

The ostrich-egg globe is distinct from these theoretical tools, or the more expansive and triumphal mapping of the world that included the image of Amerigo Vespucci, assigning the name “America” to that continent, and naming it, above “Spagnolla insula,” as a fourth continent, in ways no doubt tied to the eggshell globe.

Spagnolla Insula

The artists or engravers who designed  the ‘gores’ to assemble such globes are unknown; so are those responsible for the expansive twelve-sheet wall map Waldseemüller helped draft for his humanist patron Matthias Ringmann.  But their craft reveal an intellectual scope to picture the new continent for viewers whose relations could be readily judged by informed viewers.

The visual arrangment of the contours of continents more earthy and less abstract view of space etched in the ostrich-egg globe.  While without indices to determine spatial relations, it derives from a flurry of experimentation to capture in different media the curiosity of the New World for socially elevated audiences outside those who might speculate on the relations between the expanse of the globe Ptolemy had described from a description of global expanse–and who demanded expertise in a Ptolemaic ‘art’ to render expanse.

The ostrich egg-globe creates as sense of the materiality of geographic evidence of an era before the expansion of cartographical detail in the wall maps themselves.  Rather than suggesting the intensive investment and work of one man, such as Waldseemüller, who labored to reconcile the Ptolemaic and Columban concepts of global extent, and frame Europe, Asia, and Africa by two insular strips of Cipangu and Hispaniola, as if to create harmony within the new configuration of the sublunary terrestrial continents that reflect the expanding map on a globe, and to provide the clearest reconciliation of Ptolemaic projections and nautical charts:


Waldseemüller’s multi-sheet wall-map of four by six feet assigns a heroic role of the cosmographer as a robed and world-weary scholar, with his head is situated among those of the winds, who creates the map with compass in hand, here identified as the academically robed mapmaker Vespucci–whose findings provided the basis for the new world map–

Vespucci as world-weary robed cosmographer

–or map an archipelago-like expanse of islands of proportions and situation determined by a meridians and parallels.  The naming of space is less dependent on their calculation in relation to tropics and precise degrees of meridians–

Spagnolla Insula

The placement of its landmasses on an etched suggests a far less prominent or conspicuous announcement of a new continent, to be sure, than a surface removed by sea, and a translation of geographic language into a register of wonders.


The ostrich-egg globe, lastly, suggests the need to identify the variety of compelling contexts to read maps as curiosities as well as indexed documents, ordering geographic space for new audiences by practices transmitted across networks of collaboration–rather than as idealized geometric forms. It is interesting to examine why Ptolemaic artifice is less on display in either of the globes, also made from marine charts.  Identical in most aspects to the Hunt-Lennox globe in the New York Public Library, which was made of conjoined halves of copper connected by a thread at its poles, the eggshell globe poses questions about the artifice by which it mediated the coherence of terrestrial expanse to different audiences of readers–oriented them to a totality of terrestrial expanse they could never hope to know at first hand, clearly privileging its ordered nature but not reducing it to indices.  The tacit ordering of its surface suggests the elite audience that its anonymous designer addressed.

Lenox Globe NYPL

The smaller globes discussed above experimented with forms of representing expanse on maps to find solutions for translating expanse to communities of viewers tacitly familiar with forms of ordering space within a map, but with little interest in registering or designating location on coordinates.
Waldseemüller participated in a broader learned culture that converted maps of nautical derivation, such as the world-map of Henricus Martellus, to forms that had status within a humanist tradition of classical learning.  His engraving let authority to the spaciousness of world maps as containers able to hold a copious range of information that they were able to condense, conveying a record of the immensity of global expanse in a single, continuous, synthetic form.  The elegant engraving of the shell of an ostrich egg reveals a huge investment in crafting a surface whose contents could be readily scanned, echoing the unique planispheres that Rosselli elegantly produced, and perhaps revealing the major role that Rosselli’s work played in its production.

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Filed under Mapping America, mapping discoveries, Mapping the New World, New World, Renaissance Discoveries

Cartographic Craftsmanship, or the Social Life of Maps

When he left Lisbon in 1502, the secret agent Alberto Cantino found a way of smuggling an elegant planisphere when he left Portugal for Ferrara, probably rolled up in his suitcase, that evaded the censors of that day’s TSA. Perhaps he rolled it up his sleeve. For the planisphere–a representation of the entire surface of the world–contained relatively classified information about the discoveries in the New World of import to the Portuguese that Cantino seems to have gleaned from mapmakers in Lisbon while he was visiting, and is the first chart to show the coast of Brazil and islands known as Fortunate, and the clear path around the Cape of Good Hope to the Indian Ocean:  he hoped that it was “in such high quality . . . and drawn in a manner that pleases your Excellency [è di tal sorte, e spero che tal manera piacerà a V. Exa],” suggesting the care with which the Este spy had procured the nautical chart.  I’ve discussed the aura of maps and charts in an earlier post; the delicate greens and red, and delineated shores, conjure the removed oceans with an aura of announcement, fitting new knowledge into a basic schema defined by lines of latitudes, not present in charts, as well as rhumb lines for nautical guidelines, whose points of reference were defined by a compass rose from which they radiated:

Cantino Map

The astounding accuracy of many of the coasts of this chart profited from a long tradition and protocol of nautical charting, with a peculiar manner of noting nautical expanse.  The chart reveals the discoveries of Pedro Álvares Cabral, a nautical explorer, who Cantino probably did not know.   Cabral had recently returned to Lisbon, and when Cantino arrived there, with the pretense of seeking to trade horses for the Este court, he must have sought him out on his secret mission to procure maps of the discoveries for the Este family.  The map might have copied the secret master-map the Portuguese maintained, or Padrão Real, of Portuguese discoveries; they were magnified unintentionally beautiful “Carta de navigar per le Isole novam trovate in le parte di India” which misidentified its subject, but provided the first geographic knowledge of Brazil.  But it clearly either superimposed or referenced the directional wind-roses of nautical charting, ostensibly for reading orientating directions at sea, although perhaps as befits a planisphere of the entire earth, is constructed about two “focal circles” of thirty-two points each:


The planisphere arrived in Italy as a sort of wonder of mapping multiple forms of knowledge, as well as a synthesis of expanse.  The recent 1494 Treaty noted as bisecting the Brazilian coast, had given part of the landmass known now as South America to the Portuguese monarchy which the map shows as the most exotic area it depicted–the map seems to trumpet the luxury of an area that the Portugese sovereign Jaoa II had concealed from Ferdinand I.

Isole Fortunate

How did it speak to its new audience?  The craftsmanship of an unknown Portuguese painter or cartographer may be surprising given the high stakes of its procurement from a government particularly secretive about recent discoveries in the New World.  The geographer and historian of maps George Kish described an early fifteenth-century contract for the depiction of a portolan chart, a genre of coastal mapping that developed in Europe in the early fourteenth century, that specified the involvement of both painters and mappers; the partnership seemed natural in so valuable a creation as a map or portolan chart: the hide on which it was drawn was itself grounds for the further investment in pigments and decorative motifs, as in the illustration of inhabitants of Sierra Leone.  Part of this was also because of the riches that these maps suggest in far-off lands, and part because the tradition of nautical charts was only to mention the names of ports that dot the regions’ shores, rather than their interiors–which remain blank:  other terrestrial place are limited to Jerusalem and the ports of departure and arrival, and space expanded over the seas rather than the terrestrial expanse they enclosed.



The protocols of charting are unclear, as is their orienting function.  The use of these protocols in drafting the Cantino chart may have shifted as charts gained a display value of their own and adressed audiences distinct from the commercial trading houses who earlier seem to have kept them.  Although  associated with nautical routes, charts gained a distinct display value as audiences sought to process discoveries for audiences less familiar with nautical travel, or with commercial exchanges over oceans.  In the sixteenth century, as Angelo Frabeto has shown, nautical charts gained a popularity and interest in Italian courts of central Italian courts in the mostly landlocked Romagna, near Ferrara.  The already fanciful components of nautical charting expanded in these charts, which were less dense and stark than predecessors, and suggest an early tradition of combining artifice and cartography that predate printed maps.  The map Cantino brought contained a specific treasure-chest of disjointed bits of information and lore, discontinuous but joined by being enclosed in the velvet case constituted by the map itself, from the mountains of northern Africa to the birds of Sierra Leone, and the image of the city of Jerusalem, all shown without particular care for scale.


Affrica and castles in Guinea

The genre suggests not a limited ability to consider other expanses, so much as a disinterest in picturing them.  The manuscript reproduction of these charts reflected an interest in the most recent ‘news,’ and the colored vellum  charted voyages that were not made, much as, ahistorically recalling the later uncanny adoption  the motif of the ‘wind-rose’ that defined orientations of travel or the winds, Joseph Cornell’s “Object (Roses des vents)” (1942-53); Cornell placed fragments of a map of the remote Great Australian Bight amidst shrunken coastlines that Cornell had never seen, planets that were as far away, and emblems of imaginary voyages, and the compasses that might take him there:

Rose des Vents


As Cornell’s box, the fragments of green shoreline in Brazil in Cantino’s map assemble the scattered expanse over which the Portuguese had travelled in a semblance of unity–the unity of an expanding expanse.  Whereas the fragility of all worldly phenomena–as of the crafted miniature of the universe’s expanse–a subject that was thematized in Cornell’s perverse if beautiful boxes, the fragmentary pieces of lunar or terrestrial maps serve as pivots of perspectives of viewers, as well as a nostalgia for the aspirations toward total visual knowledge that echo Cornell’s childhood and adult consumption of engravings in nineteenth century books of science.

The Cantino map expanded the protocols of nautical charting, which it combined with other forms of mapping to offer a range of curiosities couched in the surface of the map, together with convention from nautical charting of coloring the Red Sea red, or painting an exotic bestiary of parrots on Brazil’s verdant shore, and locating, crisply,  the islands’ shores themselves– although the eager cartographer magnified their own coastlines out of scale and proportions, despite his inclusion of a line of longitude and bar of scale.


Cantino selection

The expansion of a tradition of nautical charting to a hybrid form distinguishes the Cantino map, which faced a very different audience of readers once this ostensible copy of a secret map reached Italian shores.  The Este family  interest in this chart lay in how it revealed far-off lands that associated with ocean travel by the Portuguese, who had mapped islands in the Pacific beyond Cape Verde and the Azores in the early fifteenth century. When Cantino smuggled the chart to Ferrara in 1502, he saw it as completing the mission on which Ercole had sent him to procure secret information about “the new islands” discovered by the Portuguese, and the result of his discussions with several Portuguese explorers who had traveled to search for a Northwest Passage to Asia.  It was copied into new engraved maps of the Americas, and provided a protoype for the printed 1516 Carta Nautica.

The map centrally communicated, from the Portuguese perspective, the legitimacy of possessions in the New World, demaracted at the boundary line adjudicated and confirmed at Tordesillas, which leads one to imagine it derived from a seat of central authority.  Two disembodied bars of scale on the map’s surface suggest the measurement of terrestrial inter-relations, and its preparation for careful scrutiny of a studied eye.

Isole Fortunate

The Cantino map hence played with the protocols of charting.  Rather than insist on uniform coloration of the ocean, to prevent obscuring rhumb lines, but to maintain its elegance, as the cartographer colored certain regions a light green, by confining the blue paint to the Mediterranean, Baltic, and unbounded Caspian sea, the map combined a pictorial artifice with the practice of charting or representing oceanic space–the Mediterranean had its own portolan chart, and perhaps didn’t demand that its expanse be represented in a similar style.  The combination of artifice and nautical protocols exemplifies the huge expansion of the purview, as well as containing the first news of the Brazil in Italy, which was soon diffused in other charts and maps.

The Cantino chart might be measured against the sort of artifice in earlier fifteenth century charts, popular chartings of the Portuguese voyages to the African coast.  The chart that arrived in Ferrara from Seville dramatically expanded the purview,  toponomy, and perspective of nautical charts the Este  knew, to be sure, such as Grazioso Benincasa’s detailed 1494 mapping of the African shore:



Benincasa’s 1482 nautical chart densely collated costal ports but adopted the similar carefree style of decoration–probably the work of a painter–to the mythical monarchs that inhabit an imagined uncharted terrestrial expanse.  The image seems more fanciful, and designed with the desire to appeal to audiences by its  and was the culmination of a series of portolan charts and nautical atlases of the prolific Anconitan mapmaker, following his study of Mediterranean cities that from the 1460s to included western African ports, as well as mythical islands, and dense textual legends of geographic information.  Inland areas are blankly traversed by the same rhumb lines, which echo compass lines, and the truth-claims were much more limited, and land-masses probably entrusted to painters with limited first-hand knowledge of the region.  Benincasa’s chart colors the Red Sea red , too, following a tradition of charts, and Jerusalem and several biblical cities in iconic miniature.

The Cantino map offered a new way of reading the map–one which mimimized these curiosities.  For one, the thick and prominent line of longitude in the “Cantino” map has received significant attention, together with its depiction of the Fortunate Islands, Antilles, and Azores, for this defines and demarcated the new region of sovereign possession.


Line from Tordesillas and parrots



The changed social life of these maps suggests new uses of the map as a field for understanding space–perhaps less ready to note fanciful riverine paths and foreign sovereigns or kingdoms, and more to conform to criteria of inclusion.  If one considers the new circumstances of reading the portolan that arrived in Ferrara, and its use to imagine and consider space, we might offer a reading revealing more than the differences in place-names it includes, or the conventions of mapping.  Although the format of mapping seems the same, the “manner” and “quality” of the map addressed a different sort of audience, despite the common origins of its prototypes.

The aura of the map was not limited to its conventions.  The material objects of wonder from the New World that populated the Cantino map are most striking, however, in how they illustrate an early interest in items of exchange.  The unity of the portolan chart is very different, of course, because it includes the Fortunate Islands of the sovereign of Castille, as well as the Brazilian shore, and a chunk of its richly green interior, cut off from the unknown mainland and in Portuguese possession, as if to show off the charmed jewel of the new lands that the chart encompassed.  The chart’s inclusion of a disconnected shoreline of Brazil assembles a makeshift sense of unity by noting the broken fragment of the New World to the lower left, foregrounding it as both a sort of promises of new riches, and a means to stake possession of a territory by no means yet entirely concrete, the feathers of whose birds might be better known than any other aspect of the chart.

Parrots in Brazil

The chart was kept in the Este library in Modena, but stolen when anti-Austrian Modenese looted the palace in 1859.  The map remained temporarily lost, before being found later that year in curious circumstances of re-use as the folding screen or door in a sausage store or butcher shop.  (Some portolan charts became book-covers; others were cut into strips as bookmarks or otherwise recycled.)  The Cantino planisphere, reused as a screen, was temporarily stripped of its attraction as a promise of new possessions.

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Filed under cartographic accuracy, Joseph Cornell, Mapping the New World, Nautical Charts