TITLE: de Virga's World Map
DATE: 1411 - 1415
AUTHOR: Albertinus de Virga
DESCRIPTION: This circular world map is painted on a piece of parchment
measuring about 69.6 x 44 cm, with an extension, or neck, attached on the
left-hand side. The world map proper, 41 cm in diameter, extends over two-thirds
of the overall parchment. The remaining part, the extension or neck, is
occupied by a calendar and two tables with inscriptions relating to the
calendar. Between the map and its figure there is a mention in small characters
- A. 141 . Albertin diuirga me fecit in vinexia, the last number
of the date having been erased by a fold in the parchment. That notwithstanding,
the parchment is generally in good condition with some folds and tears that
inhibit its readability. The right side carries some tears which indicate
that the map was nailed on this side to a wooden piece around which it was
evidently rolled. The whole map is framed with a double line and the laced
corners between the figures are adorned with oriental-style decoration.
Oriented with North at the top, the world map contains a wind rose with
eight divisions, the center of which is situated on the western shores of
the Mar Capara [Caspian Sea] the northern division is marked with
a star and the eastern division is marked by a cross.
The map is in color with the seas left white, except for the Red Sea which
is colored in vermillion. The landmasses are colored in yellow, although
the islands are in a variety of colors; the mountains are in a greenish-brown,
the lakes in blue, and the rivers are colored brown. The names of various
locations are written in either red or black ink, always on the inside of
a small box or cartouche. These are sometimes capped by a crown or by a
picture of a castle, which indicates the principle countries or kingdoms.
The continental landmass is surrounded by a large expanse of ocean which
several times mentions Mari Oziano magno. The Holy Land, marked with the
names of Jordan and Gorlan [Jerusalem], does not, as many
previous medieval maps, exactly occupy the center of the map. The three
known continents, Europa, Africa, and Axia, underlined on
the map for emphasis, are harmoniously placed (in part) around the Mediterranean
Sea, drawn tolerably with exactness like the European portolan [nautical]
charts, and (on the other hand) around the Indian Ocean, which is decorated
with multi-colored archipelagos similar to the Arab maps. According to its
principle commentator Von Wieser, the de Virga map presents itself in some
ways "like a compromise between the classical medieval world maps and
the map of seaports".
The influence of the Genoan and Catalonian nautical maps is marked particularly
by the detailed indications of the then recently discovered islands in the
Atlantic, the Canaries and the Azores. Africa is decorated with the common
representation of the Atlas Mountains, which spread over the northern part
of Africa like a serpent, and by the Mountains of the Moon towards the south
which surrounds twice the region where the Ylon [the river Nile]
and several other rivers flow. A large gulf which opens into the ocean carries
the notation Dara Four Asiner close to some islands. Some crowns
in Africa are accompanied by the mention of Pre. Yoanes [Prester
John of Ethiopia], Muya, and a castle of Icalmcsa [Sidjilmassa,
from the Sahara].
In Asia, most of the regional notations are consistent with Mongolian domination,
a crown with the notes Medru, Calcar, Monza sede di sedre [the Mangi
of northern China], and Bogar Tartarorum [the Great Bulgarian
or Golden Horde]. There is also a plan for fortifications marked simply
M[on]gol [Caracorum, in Greater Asia]. On the shores of the Indian
Ocean there are the kingdoms of Mimdar and Madar [Malabar
?], along with many islands with the following note which, without a doubt,
relates to Sri Lanka/Ceylon: Ysola d alegro suczimcas magna. In the
southeast, out in the middle of the Indian Ocean, is a large island provided
with the note: Caparu sive Java magna, which includes in only one
piece of land the distinct geographic features of Zipangu [Japan]
and of Java, gathered from Marco Polo.
In northern Europe, beyond the note placing the location of Ogama, Goga
[Gog and Magog] de Virga notes several places such as the kingdoms of Rotenia
[Russia], Naia, Samolica, and, in the middle of a large promitory
and notched de Virga indicates the furthest limits of the known world north
of Denmark and Scotland, the kingdom of Norveca [Norway].
As for the calendar appended to the world map, it shows the figure of a
child whose body parts correspond to the twelve signs of the Zodiac, a classic
representation of a miniature Adam. On the left is a table of 100 letters,
alternating black and red, which allows the reader to calculate the date
of Easter as either 2 April 1301 or 18 April 1400. On the right, a checker
pattern determines the seasons. This entire portion of the parchment, separate
from the map proper, seems to have been copied from part of some astronomical
tables dating from the beginning of the 14th century.
The map's designer, Albertin de Virga, a Venetian, is not well known otherwise.
It is known that he is also the author of a nautical map of the Mediterranean
Sea, of the classical type, which has flowery ornamentation similar to this
world map and signed in the same way: A. 1409 . . . in venexia.
*Destombes, M., Mappemondes, A.D. 1200 - 1500, pp. 205-207.