Slide #230

TITLE: Canistris Maps
Opicinus de Canistris
While some earlier scholars would have labelled these maps as "the epitome of medieval European cartography", due to the very ecclesiastical form and content, they were, indeed, an exception in this period's mapmaking. Opicinus de Canistris (1296 to ca. 1350), a Pavian who worked at the papal court in Avignon, drew a series of imaginative maps, while acknowledging in a text written between 1334 and 1338 his use of nautical charts. Canistris' maps are fanciful anthropomorphic perspectives on geography, cartography and religion, a style that was to become a popular form of social and political commentary in the 17th - 19th centuries.

In these examples of Canistris' maps the physical geography is adapted somewhat to animal and human forms - the image of a king conforms to the shape/content of Europe, with the image of his queen forming North Africa. There is no further attempt to personify any other landmasses, however, the Bay of Biscay adjacent to France takes on the form of a lion with his mouth agape; and the Eastern Mediterranean is shown as an old bearded man holding a dove, a book and a scepter. There is no real attempt to depict the landmasses with any degree of current geographical knowledge, the British Isles, Ireland, and Scandinavia are drawn crudely even by the standards of the day. However, the purpose of these maps were obviously not geographical or navigational, but purely a fascinating, eye-catching medium for conveying a set of ideas. A form of expression that has continued intermittently even to today, and even today we take liberties with the geography in order to fit the message. Among the various irregular lines on this map (many of them introduced to complete the human forms), Hapgood noticed a few straight lines that suggested the survival of an original pattern resembling the portolanos [nautical charts] reflecting possibly a twelve-wind system, vice the customary eight-wind system.

LOCATION: Biblioteca Apostalica Vaticana, Rome, Italy

*Bagrow, L., History of Cartography, p. 70, Fig. 76
*Hapgood, C., Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings, pp. 110-115.
Harley, J.B., The History of Cartography, Volume I, p. 3.
*Goss, John, The Mapmaker's Art, p. 330, Plate 11.2


Late Medieval Maps