Tag Archives: Amerigo Vespucci

The New World in Practice: Placing Columbus in a New World

We long placed Columbus’ transatlantic voyages in a “discourse of discovery”, if we now almost ritually question that link, as we debate the valor and commemoration of the Genoese navigator.  Columbus became a lens, and even a name, to refract as much as come to terms with contentious legacies of colonialism and colonization, legacies rooted in deep problems of the recognition of the other–and the inhabitants of other lands.  

We can imagine the difficulty of processing the extent of the Atlantic Ocean in earlier times, but the very idea of “discovery”–“a dude discovered America?  c’mon, like it didn’t already exist??!!?“–poses questions of privilege and race, in ways we are challenged to come to terms–or even perhaps fully admit, of naming, mapping, and sovereignty, questions that are central to the debate about public statuary of Columbus–and the commemoration of Columbus Day, but already were addressed in the figuration of first contact with the New World.

The problem of viewing the New World from afar was one that maps provided tools to address, but abilities of reading space on a map–let alone reading the networks of space that we readily digest from airplane route maps or Google Maps–were so foreign to being internalized that we must look beyond questions of cartographic literacy or the power of maps.  The ability to frame–and indeed unite–the Atlantic in what might be called the “first” spherical age of global mapping, although the globes only circulated among quite elite audiences, was based on a new epistemology of proximity, as the frame of the map–of a scale and expanse that was previously communicated only in the nautical map, a fairly expert sort of document drafted on sheepskin or vellum, and rarely exhibited to large audiences, or able to be read by then–suddenly migrated to a new audience of readers and a new reading public who rarely read maps or used maps as tools to process terrestrial (or territorial) expanse, but credibly stake sovereign claims to possession.  

We might do well to ask, in looking at them, what sort of work is done by images like maps, and the claims to sovereignty encoded in the islands that bore the names of sovereign but floated disembodied in a global sea in the Hunt-Lenox Globe–a small globe whose careful worksmanship suggested the power of contemplating the newly “discovered” lands.

New Islands Lenox Globe

Hunt-Lenox Globe, ca. 1510/courtesy New York Public Library

For the mapping of the New World posed the almost existential questions of situating those individual mariners who sailed the highly maneuverable crafts of caravels across the Atlantic ocean, even before the “naming” of America.

Detail of engraved Hunt-Lenox Globe, ca. 1510/ from the 3D model
produced by Digital Scholarship Lab of University of Rochester

All of which should force more attention to the informational value of maps as transitional records, as much as the contents that they bear. Consuming, digesting, and materializing trans-Atlantic expanse was not only deeply challenging; it encouraged or taught abilities to mediate royal authority across vast oceanic waters, reframing relations of sovereign to land in ways that frontispiece to the first editions of his Letter rehearsed and sought to recapitulate by its iconography of a monarch observing from his throne indigenous peoples overseas where the three caravels arrived.  

The tension between a throned man in the lower left hand of the frame–the Spanish monarch Ferdinand–and the naked natives in thatched grooves is linked by the intermediaries of the four sailors in one of three caravels at the shore of these islands with palms.  If the woodcut suggests a division between its left and right registers, they overlap in a vision of a domesticated nature, at the base of the woodcut, extending at the foot of the enthroned monarch who dispatched the caravels, and the exoticized nature of the New World, far removed but imagined as if continuous with it, in a pictorial rendition of the continuity of the mapped globe. The most striking apsect of the frontispiece to Columbus’ letters remains the bridging of the ocean by a gesture, a representation of transatlantic communication, as if in the royal gesture could bridge the seas.

If the simple perspective bridged an oceanic remove, it did so by inventing the notion of transatlantic sovereignty, across borders, in the very first image that introduced Columbus’ letters from the marvels of the New World and its inhabitants.

Ferd II of Spain observes New World

As the set of letters bridge the New World and the Old, extending across the globe, in what we must take as a first image of globalism, they prepare the notion of the legibility of the map, able to bridge huge global distances, and the virtual continuity it frames between the Atlantic as a navigable space and a unified sovereign domain: the image of sovereignty that the frontispiece seems to celebrate, and declare, present the medium of letters as a basis to bridge space, and to perform a geographic transit across a network of sovereign rule, enacting the very claims of sovereignty that the naming of the islands perpetuates, and that the broad objections to the discourse of discovery, and the “discovery” of the Americas, presents. Indeed, the affective relation to the foreign areas prefigures the structuralist paradigms of anthropologists, between the robed monarch and nude natives, the enunciative action of the monarch, whose raised hand suggests declamatory intent, and the crowded field of long-haired indigenous bodies–are they dancing? crowding among one another in fear?–in the upper left, faced by the hatted men who approach the as yet unnamed island. The three caravels that arrive had been designed to maneuver ocean waters adroitly. The image of skillful maneuvering and undisciplined crowding, encoded into the woodcut, prepare a set of structural oppositions even before we read the letters themselves.

The prefatory woodcut must be looked at after removing the ghosts of Columbus’ legacy as a navigator, so often and ahistorically elevated in far more recent iconography, and placing him in a network that was more accessible to the readers of early books.  The legacies of the navigator were magnified in the many statues of Columbus across the built landscape in a craze of commemoration and of memorialization after the U.S. Civl War, that also intersected with the four hundredth anniversary of his first voyage across the Atlantic. Indeed, the onslaught of social media images of slinging red paint on statues of Columbus each Columbus Day, spreading across the United States in ways almost unthinkable a decade or two ago, has revealed a deep rethinking of the relative power of the claims of triumphalism in the statuary of Christopher Columbus, and the ability to idealize the celebration of claims of discovery, without recognizing dispossession, displacement, enslavement, and death that made indigenous people among the first stateless people in the early globalized world.

The images of a now-annual dousing of the figure of Columbus with red paint–figuring the blood of inhabitants–is far removed historically from the moment of contact, but a response to the very perspective that the image of contact offered on how indigenous inhabitants were directly sent a message of European sovereignty.

The building of monuments across states was not only an attempt to find national collective meaning, but a mending wounds of civil war. And the pronounced fetishization of the map as a logic of manifest destiny mirrored may have helped justify the geographic expansions westward by purifying its inhumanity in a discourse of discovery and invention as native lands were confiscated and folded into the nation, happening in the culmination of violent claims of expanding claims to sovereignty into western lands. Columbus offered an apparently safer, purer ideal of conquest, as the Columban encounter was imagined as if with less spilt blood.

Western wars

Processing of the New World’s place on the map still provides a worthy site of reflection, however, and perhaps especially in a globalized world, especially by spilling blood in the New World, or revealing the spillage of blood that was concealed in narratives of discovery and indeed the Colombian myth, as sought to be shown by protestors in Providence RI this Indigenous Peoples Day. The fiction of presenting Columbus as a figure of discovery and taking possession of removed geographic lands is impossible to dissociate from genocide, and perhaps all the more difficult to reconcile in the very lands that were seized from indigenous inhabitants–even if Columbus himself never set foot there.

Vandfalized in new landf

October 13, 2019

We were long far more apt to recognize the reduction of Columbus to the visage of Renaissance man with a plan to sail the ocean blue in 1492, twinning foresight and navigational endurance, as twinned in the verso and recto of to celebrate the anniversary of the voyage  in an anonymous medallion printed for the Colombian Exposition of 1892, which honored the Renaissance man shown in his furs and coiffed hair looking out spaciously, on one side, as if his piercing stare allowed him to cut across waves of neoclassical design emphasized the historical scope of the voyage of one ship across waters as its prow cut across the intervening oceans to arrive in the New World, unimpeded by any elements, erasing the ideahe even encountered any resistance among indigenous inhabitants across the ocean seas, and creating the sense of frictionless travel without obstacles, enabled by a penetrating gaze.

1893 volumbus medal, anon, as a classicizing engraving tableaux
Anonymous Medal, Columbian Centenary

To express the sense of transit and remove, that was preserved in the woodcut prefacing Columbus’ widely read letters about the New World, we must perform the work of cutting away encrusted images of Columbus as a modern hero, perhaps for the last time rehearsed by none other than Venetian nobleman (and former fascist) count Vittorio di Colbertaldo, who in 1957 was accompanied by a group of Italian sailors as he unveiled a 3.6 meter bronze triumphant statue of Columbus in San Francisco, having already unveiled a similar statue in Miami. In San Francisco, Colbertaldo was accompanied by a group of Italian sailors with the statue of over three and a half meters, on Columbus Day weekend, when it was unveiled in the festivities of an annual Columbus Day parade. Colbertaldo proudly invested Columbus with clear fascistic attributes as a martial, virile man of state, a commander of European nobility, atop a marble base brought from Genoa: the triumphalism written into his visage and martial brow with more kinship to fascist statuary than most images of Columbus, but only slight exaggeration of his rhetoric in its iconography. The perpetuation of this iconography–and indeed the laminations of conquest, and the rationale of conquest, and its naturalization, is exactly what we must object to and find repugnant, as a question of human rights, and of government, but which was so long celebrated in quite unmasked radicalized terms.

The placement of the statue overlooking the bay in San Francisco is a natural target of resistance–in its grotesque perpetuation of Columbus as a victory of state, religion, rationality, and male strength, that befit Colbertaldo’s resumé as a monumental sculptor of the Fascist period in Italy, dedicated to the “discovery of the new world.” The statue’s imperiousness readily naturalized some of the dogma set forth by Columbus himself, but updated the claims of discovery of new continents to the twentieth century with cartoonish masculinity. As a sculptor, Colbertaldo had only recently formulated unsubtle ideas of the role of monumentality as he worked to promote the iconography of government in Fascist Italy, where he had written I Monumenti e l’uomo; as preferred sculptor of Benito Mussolini–who he served as personal bodyguard–his work toured varied martial statues of Italians in arms. Perhaps Columbus provided the natural subject to consider a martial Italian in the postwar era for American eyes.

He must have arrived at Columbus in rather circuitous ways, in the post-Fascist era. One can read into the readiness with which he endowed the navigator with fascist triumphalism for an American audience, accentuating the clear-eyed vision that subdued distance and oceans to his person, in a triumph of individuality, linking man to state by an illustration of personal force, almost not needing a map–projecting an image of European nobility across the ocean–if now, in San Francis,  looking in quite commandeering fashion over the Pacific, bearing with pride a cross on his robust chest, as if to refer to the expansion of American sovereign claims in the Pacific, and letting the map in hand fall to his side–perhaps, after perhaps having been inspired by it to take on his destined role as a soldier of Spain, but having done so by his own will alone.

The triumphal image seems to fulfill a majestic historical narrative that swept his ships across space, .  In the postwar period of America, the ship is absent from the person, perhaps as military mapping had so expanded in accuracy to make the moment of perception of America more dramatic as a fascist will to power.  The space of the Atlantic was not problematic to bridge, as the expanse of the Pacific was in the midst of deterritorialization.

Fascist Colomubs by V. di Colbertado (1957)

This Columbus’ determination is evident in his  brow–startlingly akin to the face of Mussolini as rendered in fascist statuary– in what was the most recent incarnation of Columbus as emissary, and soldier, if looking more like a superhero whose virility seems tied to his ability to look to overseas shores with determination.  The recent vandalization of the same statue with red paint, in an attempt to connect the dots between the bloodiness of conquest and the heroism we have long imagined called for more than stripping off paint or veneer, but seeing the navigator differently and renarrativizing that hackneyed narrative, shown in its most grotesque in Colbertaldo’s glorification of white determination–no doubt making it a perfectly appropriate target for vandalism on Indigenous People’s Day.

October 14, 2019

The statue makes one want to pair it with the first images of contact that prefaced the hugely popular incunable of Columbus’ letters, an image that deserves careful unpacking and historicization, but encapsulates a sovereignty over space in less imperious ways–Columbus was a middle-man, and monarchical agent–but suggests a similar domineering of space by virtue of a sighting instrument and a divine message inscribed in the heavens, that made him so celebrated as advancing Christianity overseas to new continents whose inhabitants were opened to conversion. Was the statuary of the late nineteenth though mid-twentieth century a rehearsal of these claims, or did it only update how they enacted a new relation to the map in loaded and nefarious ways?

Stradanus, Allegorical Invention of America,
in Nova Reperta from Renaissance Quarterly 65:2 (2012)

In its radical contraction of a transatlantic journey, the woodcut that prefaced the Columban letters, the first written description of the New World encounter, recalls the contraction of time and space to the arrival of the navigator elegantly garbed in the moment of arrival in the New World shores, as if to take possession of them with considerable elegance, as in the Currier and Ives print that was sold widely at the Columbus Exposition of 1892, to be exhibited in American homes, which recduce the voyage to a triumphant gesture of arrival, and planting of the Spanish flag unfurling in the New World, as if below a spotlight onstage to which the dark-skinned anonymous natives approached with something akin to veneration, as Columbus and his men express gratitude to something like the gift of having been granted discovery.  

The commemoration of the Colombian discoveries encouraged scenic images that erased any sense of indigenous suffering, or more explicitly martial relations in later years long before the late nineteenth century, as a poetics of discovery was rehearsed as a pastoral scene enacted entirely among men.

Currier and Ives, 18992--exposition image?
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Filed under Columbus, commemoration, geographic mobility, Voyage of Discovery, World Maps

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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Filed under fake maps, globalism, globalization, Mapping the New World, media studies

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