TITLE: The Borgia World Map
DATE: 1410 - 1458
DESCRIPTION: This map was discovered in an antique shop and bought
by Cardinal Borgia for his museum in Velletri. It seems to have been originally
designed as a wall decoration and consists of two iron plates on which a
world map is engraved, with colors rubbed into the engraved channels (
nielli ). The orientation of this disc-shaped work is with south at
the top. Due to its apparent decorative function, it did not necessarily
have to conform to the same standards expected of other maps of its day,
i.e., portolan charts, or the Catalan-Estense and Fra Mauro mappamundi
(Slides #246, 249). According
to scholars such as Leo Bagrow, the Borgia map was modelled on some Catalan
map, as a comparison with the Modena map clearly shows. For others, because
of its rather unusual orientation and its ornamentation, the Borgia map
is not unlike a crude precursor to the more famous Fra Mauro mappamundi
of 1459. But, again, because of its purported decorative intent, the result
is a very stylized representation in the contours of the major landmasses.
This characteristic can be seen particularly in the mountains that are used
to symbolize the coastline in a few places (i.e., Northern Asia, Southern
Africa). The entire southern part of Africa, which would have formed an
ugly white excrescence, is omitted; and coastal outlines are either badly
distorted for the period (especially well known areas such as Spain and
Italy), or simply generalized.
According to Nordenskiöld, the Borgia map was probably composed for
a secondary purpose to illustrate some instruction in the elements of the
globe, or more correctly, in the geography, the natural conditions and ethnography
of the earth disc. Even more noteworthy, and in this respect it is almost
unique among medieval maps, is the fact that it seems to have been drawn,
not by some scholar through the study of older authorities, more or less
classical, but by a much travelled and observant man, recording what he
had seen and heard.
One of the attractions of the map are the myrad of miniature drawings reminiscent
of much earlier maps such as the Hereford and Ebstorf mappamundi
#226), as well as the Catalan Atlas of 1375 (Slide #235). The unknown author could not resist the
temptation to tickle the palate of his readers, for he fills the empty,
unexplored continental spaces with all manner of legendary and traditional
characters. Zoologically, there are fauna in all three of Wilma George's
'regions' Ethiopian, Oriental, and Palearctic displayed on the Borgia map.
As this scholar states, it " formalized exuberance resembling the 12th
century maps populates the Oriental region with camels, jackals or hyenas,
an elephant, a panther, lion, dragon and, marginally, in the region, some
An elk or moose appears in Europe from behind some trees, with the tines
on the opposing and upper edges of its antlers. Also there is a polar bear
emerging from an igloo in Norway, domesticated reindeer, foxes and wolves
to be found.
Culturally, towns are represented by castellated symbols, a variety of ship-types
can be seen in the circumfluent ocean, the Magi of the Gospel story is included
and even the Mongolian invasion is illustrated. Legends abound everywhere
there is room or no graphic adornment. Surprisingly, unlike many other maps
with this degree of illustration, little or no emphasis is given to Jerusalem,
i.e. pictorially or through orientation, thus indication of a more sectarian,
vice religious, origin and purpose.
LOCATION: Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Museum of Cardinal Stefano
*Bagrow, L., History of Cartography, pp. 71-72.
*Destombes, M., Mappemonde, A.D. 1200-1500, pp. 239-241.
*George, W., Animals and Maps, pp. 48-49.
*Kimble, G.H.T., Geography in the Middle Ages, pp. 108, 183.