Category Archives: Mapping the New World

Colossus on the Hudson: Monuments of Global Kitsch

“On the banks of every great river in the world, you’ll find a monument to excess,” observed a bombastic character in Amitav Ghosh’s novel The Hungry Tide observes, on British imperial plans for a port at Calcutta. The building of the port recalled an imperial relation to sovereign territory. And the statue of Christopher Columbus that Donald J. Trump sought to have approved on the banks of his Hudson River development recalls an era of mapping when one could lay possession to space in a map–indeed, even to the extent of claiming possession of much of a continent. If the “America First” doctrine that Trump embraced openly when he began his political career is based on the exclusion of a foreign “other” perspective–or of anyone not a member of a clannish notion of “America”–the statuary of a Columbus oblivious to the other, announcing his arrival as a foundational act of government, in an immobile if heroic relation to the land–

–suggests an autocratic ideal of government, that would have invested a site destined to be erected on Trump Properties in a Hudson River lot of landfill on Manhattan with a statue celebrating thin-lipped autocratic leadership. While America has long denied its imperial identity, the statue seemed a bid to recognize it, if it was also a Russian reading celebrating the authoritarian image of the navigator as a figure of state, and a nationalist symbol.

This fantasy image of Columbus, as a navigator who arrived in a New World in peace, saluting the continent over which he was taking possession in thin-lipped solemnity, was both a kitsch of a monumental who seemed to bear regal insignia around his neck, rose an arm affirmative as an imaginary past of the founding go the nation, as if this monument in bronze would set a precedent for “Make America Great Again”—conjuring the allure of an imaginary past demanding complete the complete assent from observers, as if to allow no possibility of choice for native inhabitants, and to remove a myth of the New World and America from an idea of freedom, more akin to a westward progression of empire, driven by sails decorated by royal crosses of the most Catholic majesties Ferdinand and Isabella, than by recognizably American values.

If the Roman poet Horace had boasted his writings would outlast monuments in bronze in the Augustan era, the bronze monument whose imperial relation to space mediates a tradition of Augustan statuary in kitsch. And if Horace seems to have punctured Augustan vanity by identifying his poetry as a testament outlasting monuments of bronze or pyramids, the colossus Trump planned to have erected on his property at tax payers’ expense as a gift from the Russian people that had been rejected as a Soviet gift for the quincentennial celebrations of Columbus was a monument to his vanity, as the Taj Mahal built in Atlantic City for $1.2 billion in 1990, promoted as “the eighth wonder of the world.”

The monumental statue concealing the act of dispossession of native lands seem to have appealed to Trump, and not only because the six hundred ton statue that Donald Trump hoped would promote his latest luxury housing enclave. If the statue is ridiculously ahistorical, planned for a place the fifteenth century navigator never arrived holding navigational tools he never used, the 6,500 tons of sub-export bronze almost erected on the banks of the Hudson River, selected as the site to be “gifted” by Russian oligarchs who had long globally peddled a massive statuary two American presidents had demurred, probably both an aesthetic grounds and for its autocratic form, an imaginary of conquest almost foreign to Columbian iconography.

If all maps freeze cruel dialectics of power and inequality, the image of Columbus, arm on a rotary nautical wheel not used on his transatlantic voyage, suggested a poetics of dispossession that was broadly revisited in the United States at this very time. Although the statue would be adopted as an icon of the “anti-Christopher Columbus attacks from the political left wing in America,” as if facing threats of a desecration of models of heroism, the totem to Columbus that defined the taboo nature of expanding political discourse to critique Columbus’s historical identity, the endurance of the massive sculpture “Discovery of the New World” in Arecibo recapitulated a logic of discovery: even as the liabilities for disaster approached $50 billion, according to the Office of Management and Budget, did the town ever consider melting down the 6,500 tons of bronze to recoup their monetary value?

It surely admitted the imperial nature of the United States more concretely than any defense of the nation. The appeal of the massive statue was quick to gain an almost cultish meaning in the light of open attacks on Columbus’ monumetnalization that began around the time that Trump announced the statue’s arrival in 1997, or from 1989 by pouring blood on Columbus statues. The lionization of Columbus grew to counter fears of attacks on Columbus statuary on the mainland as tantamount beheading a cultural figure in an act of wanton sacrifice–rather than a political act–and they had considerable grown by 2015

–may have led to the kitsch statue to be at last fetishized, in ways that the original plans for its installation as a patriotic symbol on steroids. Even if attacks vandalizing Columbus statuary grew recently as a Columbus Day protest, the first proclamations of Indigenous Peoples’ Day began as the quincentennial approached in 1990-92, and the statue was loaded as the commemoration of First Nations was adopted in the second Monday of October in at least two cities and one state–South Dakota–if it is now recognized by ten states and multiple public and private universities, before statues of Columbus were smashed in San Jose in 2001, but after the Haitian revolutionaries deposed the bronze statue of Columbus from its pedestal in Port-au-Prince 1986, identifying him with colonialism by putting the placard “Foreigners out of Haiti!” revealing the navigator as an exterminator who prefigured Hitler: the statue pushed into the ocean waters was retrieved and redeposited, attacked by the crowd as a symbol of American interference, finally not retrieved and erected again.

In contrast to broad queries about the celebration or commemoration of Columbus in 1992, as Howard Zinn presented profit and enslavement as primary motivations of the navigator, fueling the desecration of Columbus statues, the flat-footed proposal for a still larger immobile colossus of the fifteenth navigator eliminates all native presence. The bronze behemoth that was proposed to American presidents George HW Bush and Bill Clinton was refused, perhaps the statue planned for the coincidence of the Columbus quincentenary and start of post-Soviet Russia was so openly haunted by imperialist and totalitarian tones: facilitated and encouraged by Moscow’s new mayor, Yuri Luzhkov, a major sponsor of the monumental sculptures of Zurab Tsereteli, which had recently reshaped Moscow’s public space, the image of Columbus as an autoctrat who, Tsar-like, embodied the plans for the nation, seems to have recycled a myth of Manifest Destiny from an oddly royalist optic, but recast in Stalinist tones of the never built Palace of the Soviets, more than an image of independence: if the monument to Lenin planned to be 415 meters, at Stalin’s urging, was never built, the monumental statue rendered in 1937 was a purified Lenin’s authority at the height of the Russian purges in a symbol of sovereignty, designed to be taller than the Eiffel Tower.

purge of Boris Iofan, Design for Palace of the Soviets, with Statue of Lenin (1937)

Was the statue of Columbus presented to Donald Trump a normalization of American empire? Globalization can be placed in a genealogy of trnasborder spaces, and the readopting of Columbus as a figure of the transborder in the era of increased flow of Russian funds, commerce, and traffic to America was incarnated in the imperial reimagining of Columbus as a figure of cross-border conquest. It is no surprise that the monumental statue planned as the largest in the Western Hemisphere, if not immediately erected, arrived in the territorial outpost of Arecibo, a Puerto Rican island the marks the edge of American territory, months after the inauguration of Donald Trump–only to be buffeted from Hurricane Maria’s winds.

Did residents of Arecibo ever consider melting down a statue that Trump had boasted contained the same President who withheld aid for the recovery of a devastation Hurricane Maria caused on the island, after the arrival of a sculpture boasted to contain $40 million in bronze in an impoverished fishing village. As if preserving a similar dialectic of power not frozen in the images of lopsided landscape of a globalizing world, where the statue of Columbus gained new meaning in the circulation of global wealth, local residents believed that its arrival (and installation at a cost of $20 million) would bring capital development to the hamlet, perhaps akin to how Trump promised to develop a Trump International in Moscow boasting unprecedented social exclusivity by investing $250 million in Russia. Was the statue, whose arrival must have been worked out in Moscow during negotiations for the new Trump development in post-Soviet Russia, seen as a tacit recognition of Trump as affirming the special tie of Trump and Russia in 1997?

If now-President Trump had once crowed in 1996 that Russian had gifted a statue of over $40 million in bronze, Arecibo may well have considered scrapping the statue after Hurricane Maria caused $90 billion in damages in 2017, destroying or damaging 300,000 homes, while awaiting $42.5 billion allocated for disaster relief, while receiving less than $14 billion as Trump accused their governor of “robbing the U.S. Government blind!” Yet in what seemed a massive failure in his first test of Presidential leadership, Trump allocated far less disaster relief than had been the case in previous responses to Hurricane Harvey (2017) or Irma (2017) that hit Texas and Florida, an insufficiency that already revealed growing health disparities. from monies in survivors’ pockets to small businesses to flood insurance, despite hugely incommensurable mortality rates and destruction.

But amidst such long-term devastation across the debt-ridden island–

–the statue stood as a reminder of the lopsided status of the United States economy, in increasingly melancholy impotence on Arecibo’s waterfront, testament to lopsided imbalances in a global economy, on a grassy hillside just fifty miles from San Juan, impressing locals who had believed it would herald the fishing village’s future development.

Xavier Garcia/Bloomberg

The new icons of reformed memory that Tsereteli’s work had encouraged in Moscow led the monumental gift to be presented as a calling card that announced that Moscow was now open nature as a center of trade and investment. It also seemed to coronate Trump as an improbable beneficiary of largesse: Trump had regarded the arrival of the over three hundred foot statue of cast bronze as destined to be erected “at my West Side yards development,

The oddly metamorphosed icon of nationalism and patriotic destiny would now herald a luxury housing development, combining or blurring private gain and public good in ways typify the Trump era. While designed for the quincentenary of the “discovery of America” by the fifteenth-century navigator, the prospective placement of the statue on a luxury property development, removed from public space, adopted a triumphal relation to space, almost at odds with democracy. boom The sheer bombast of the gesture by which the thin-lipped autocratic Columbus would salute Manhattan before a backdrop of three broad sails marked by royal crosses inflated by wind as he appears to arrive from overseas seems to reassert the authority of the navigator in “Birth of a New World” to the old world.

The optics of the monumental statue and its placement were odd. It is not hard to see why it was not built. But it offers a hidden mapping of the an figural fascism of a new political imaginary of American authoritarianism–the historian Robert Paxton argued that an American fascism would not of course only re-use fascist symbols, which in themselves represented a powerful statement of the ties of each member of a nation to its state, even if they were symbols, but rather something like “Christian crosses” and “stars and stripes,” the massive statue foregrounded the very crosses that affirmed the Christianity of the nation–central for a sculptor who is a committed member of the Orthodox church and nationalist–and projected a new American identity by which Trump was particularly taken.

If we might reduce the appeal of the monument’s construction to a sense of personal narcissism, its arrival parallels Trump suggesting Presidential candidacy in 1999 on the television show “Larry King Live!“–by announcing his lead in polls for President with false modesty. “The polls came out, and they said if I ran, I’d do very well,” Trump said as if he wanted to conceal his ambitions or present his election as foregone; “I don’t know, I just don’t even know. I mean, they put people’s name — they put various celebrities’ names in, and I did very well in polls, and, all of a sudden, people started calling . . .”–as if a seed for the idea had not been planted in his head. The sense of direct public acclamation of leadership, the sort that Trump recognized in the New Hampshire polls of 1999, when his name was proposed for the primary, as the nominee of the short-lived Reform Party, run by ex-wrestler Jesse Ventura, provided the very sort of acclamation Trump demanded as Republican nominee and within his party, a sense of acclamation that echoed the odd, then-unbuilt statue of Columbus which then languished in an abandoned factory in Puerto Rico.

Keystone/Getty Images; Mandel Ngan/AFP 

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Filed under Columbus, Donald J. Trump, globalization, Mapping the New World, national monuments

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. The curving lines that lapped the shores of inhabited lands in an early map of northern Europe, reprinted as the endpaper to a universal history, the Liber chronicarum, ad derived from a map of northern Europe before the “discovery” of the New World, that set places and regions in northern Europe apart from a wavy sea–


The northern seas are denoted by individual lines echo a global bifold map the same 1491 Liber Chronicarum, just predating the discovery of the New World, a detail of a crudely engraved world map in which one sees swirling waters that encircle the island of England and indeed all of Europe–and make one think of the difficulties of reconciling and bridging different registers of mapping land and sea for readers in the late fifteenth century.

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 betraying the new phenomenological properties of the surface of engraved maps.

Although maps are often though of as paper constructions, the new properties of synthesizing land and sea in Ptolemaic maps are quite similarly approached in the very unique surface of this strikingly tactile engraved map–joining rounded halves of ostrich eggs–

Ostrich Egg Globe (1504)

–invites a distinctive attention to similar circumambient waters, which flow about the continents on whose surface we can see clearly engraved and legible toponyms: the seas are far more murky, as if they land had been the only legible area that was raised from their depth. The raised nature of the terrestrial surfaces on this globe–where the oceans are literally scratched away form its surface, as are the chains of mountains, coastlines, capital letters indicating terrestrial regions, and limited toponymy, suggest a marvel as much as a terrestrial map, and remind us of the interlinked discourses of maps and marvels, and the collection of curios as vehicles and mediums of geographic knowledge.

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. The coverage of the watery surface in the globe–which is in fact mostly covered by water–is even more pronounced in this apparently unique globe, composed of joined shell-like structures, treating the durable surface of the shell to create a luxury globe, which cannot, in its own way, but recall the famous apocryphal story of Christopher Columbus displaying the invention that was widely associated with cartographic modes for displaying the New World in flat maps, by challenging “lay a wager with any of you, that you will not make this egg stand up as I will, naked and without anything at all,” related in Girolamo Benzoni’s 1565 Historia del Mondo Nuovo [History of the New World], to compare the achievement of his discovery of the New World from “great men clever in cosmography and literature,” by the act of forcing the egg to stand on a table by allowing one end to be placed on a table as a support.

The eggshell map has no broken ends, but in its newly discovered form indeed stands on a table, allowing the observer to view to ponder the entire spherical surface of a globe, engraved on two ends of an ostrich eggshell, perhaps originating from a princely zoo, that lent itself to offer an exotic surface of cartographic demonstration to its privileged owners, quite unlike the manuscript or printed maps that are associated with early maps o the New World in the materiality with which it suggests the long voyage across oceanic expanse to reach a geographically enlarged (and now clearly out of scale) image of the New World islands, north of a creative rendition of a newly discovered South American coast, identified as the Terra Sancta Crucis, as if to retain the Christian eschatology even in the revelation of a world whose form seems foreign to whatever geographic knowledge is revealed in the Bible: the new islands of Isabel and Spagnuola are themselves court creations of Columbus’ royal patrons, and inscribe claims to sovereignty to these new lands, but the invention of the ostrich globe, recently discovered over four centuries after the discovery of the Americas,

Did the discovery of this inventive form of globe-making, unprecedented in the literature, link inventively, artifice, mapping and eggs that afforded a basis for Benzoni’s apocryphal claim?

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.

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Filed under early modern globes, histories of 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