Slide #241

TITLE: Bianco World Maps
Andrea Bianco
DESCRIPTION: The maps of Andrea Bianco (Bianchi), along with those of Walsperger (1448), the Catalan-Estense map of 1450, the Borgia map, the Genoese map of 1457, and Fra Mauro's map of 1459, form the beginnings of a transition period, away from the circular, Jerusalem-centered religious depictions of the earlier medieval mappaemundi, and toward those that were to form the Renaissance period of cartography. The maps mentioned above are ones that began to assimilate the new discoveries into the Ptolemaic framework, thereby abandoning the form and format of the earlier maps. Since the traditional frame no longer held the new discoveries in the 15th century it became a practical impossibility to center the maps on Jerusalem. Andrea Bianco's world map of 1436 literally breaches its circular border in East Asia. These transitional maps are often circular, with a well-defined Mediterranean and Black Sea area directly derived from the portolan [nautical] charts. The accuracy, however, falls off dramatically outside the Mediterranean basin. The cartographic signs and generalization are similar in style to those of the portolan charts, as is the network of rhumb lines radiating from the center of the map. Biblical sources still predominate, especially for the land areas toward the edges of the map.

The clerical hold on scholarship was responsible for two of the most conspicuous features of the typical world map; firstly, the prominence given to biblical topics and topography and, secondly, the survival of certain traditions at a time when fresh knowledge was making them untenable or at least demanding their modification. The Terrestrial Paradise, for instance, forms an almost constant component of the mappamundi, and what could be more natural ? No orthodox Christian in the Middle Ages doubted the existence of this original home of mankind as a fact of contemporary history. Many writers devote long chapters to the description of its delights, though none from first-hand enjoyment of them ! Even Mandeville, the most romantic geographer of the age, confesses that he had not visited it on account of his unworthiness, but that he had derived his information about it from trustworthy men. John of Hesse (Hese), who professes to have seen it from a distance in the Far East, (fl. ca. 1389) also assigns a terrestrial position to Purgatory, possibly on the authority of Dante who tell us that the Earthly Paradise was situated in the Southern Hemisphere on the summit of the mount of Purgatory, antipodal to Jerusalem. John Marignolli was assured by the natives of Ceylon that Adam's Peak was only 40 miles distant from Paradise and that on a good day it was possible to hear the water falling from the river which 'went out of Eden to water the Garden '. Typical of the circumstantial descriptions of this earthly Eden are those coming from the pens of Gervase of Tilbury and Ranulf Higden, who based their statements mainly on the opinions of the early Fathers, Augustine, Basil and Ambrose. But the authority upon whom the mapmakers relied mostly was Isidore, whose statement that Paradise was 'hedged about on all sides by a long wall of flame . . . in such a way that the fire reached almost to the sky ', is vividly portrayed in the Hereford map (Slide #226). The vitality of the tradition was so great that this Garden of Delights, with its four westward flowing rivers, was still being located in the Far East long after the travels of Odoric and the Polos had demonstrated the impossibility of any such hydrographical anomaly, and the moral difficulties in the way of the identification of Cathay [China] with Paradise. The embarrassment arising from the knowledge that the sources of the rivers were mutually remote was banished by assuming that each of the streams, upon leaving Paradise, went underground and reappeared at their respective sources. Thus Paradiso Terrestre, adjoining C. Comorin, is prominently displayed on Bianco's 1436 world map, with four rivers shown flowing through the center of India, one to the north of the Caspian, near Agrican, that is Astrakan [the Volga], a second into the south of the Caspian, near Jilan [Araxes ?], a third into the Gulf of Scanderoon [Orontes ?], while the fourth river is the Euphrates. The physical existence of the Earthly Eden was believed by many people, long after the Middle Ages; its location was still an academic issue when Bishop Huet of Avranches wrote his Tractatus de Situ Paradisi Terrestrii in the eighteenth century.

Other Old Testament stories to be commemorated were the fortunes of Noah's Ark, the punishment of Lot's wife, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the sojourn in Egypt and the Exodus." However, of all the topics to be given pictorial expression, few enjoyed a wider vogue than those concerning the lands of Gog and Magog.

In his world map of 1436, Bianco places a large island in the Atlantic Ocean to the west of the Straits of Gibraltar, the mythical y:a de Antillia, the outlines of which are only indicated, and then farther north, at the western corner of the map, another large island, y:a de la man Satanaxio. This legend, or the narrative to which it alludes, seems to have impressed the geographers of the following centuries, the Insula Dæmonum being retained on manuscript and printed maps long after the rediscovery of the New World, e.g., on the map of Wytfliet of 1597.

Andrea Bianco described himself on his chart of 1448 as comito di galia [a senior officer on a galley], and official documents survive that link him with almost annual galley sailings throughout the period 1437-51. Bianco signed his 1448 chart from London. That was the only year in the period 1445-51 for which his destination is not independently documented. No doubt, as in 1446, 1449, and 1451, he was an officer on one of the Flanders galleys. Three ships were certainly fitted out by the Venetian Senate in February 1448, two of them intending to call at London. Presumably Bianco drew the chart ashore during the three and a half months allotted for cargo loading and customs clearance. Bianco is also recorded as having collaborated with Fra Mauro at Murano on his celebrated world map (Slide #249), as payments made to him between 1448 and 1459 testify.
Bianco was an experienced ship master and navigator of Venetian merchant galleys. The Archives of the Republic record his certification, at various dates between 1437 and 1451, as ammiraglio and uomo di consiglio in ships plying the trade routes to Tana [Black Sea], Flanders, Beirut and Alexandria, Rumania, and Barbary. He signs his chart of 1448 from London as comito de galia.

Two cartographic works from Bianco's hand have survived. These are the atlas of ten leaves, with nine charts or maps, dated 1436 and preserved in the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, Venice, and the nautical chart of 1448, preserved in the Biblioteca Ambrosiana, Milan. The latter is the primary cartographic authority (since no Portuguese charts of this period are extant) for the Portuguese exploration of the Atlantic and of the African coast up to the year 1445, extending southward to Cape Verde. This chart, which has been frequently reproduced, has been the subject of much discussion in regard to its representation of the Azores and of islands shown at the southern edge of the chart, two off Cape Verde (conjecturally identified as the Cape Verde Islands) and ixola otenticha. The chart is signed Andrea biancho. venician. comito di galia me fexe a londra. m. cccc.xxxx.viij; it is thus the earliest surviving nautical chart prepared in England, and testifies to the manner in which intelligence of new discoveries could reach England in the 15th century.

The atlas of 1436, with which we are principally concerned, comprises ten leaves of vellum, measuring 29 X 38 cm., in an 18th century binding. Until 1813, when it came to the Biblioteca Marciana, it was in the possession of the Venetian family of Contarini, and there is no evidence that it ever left Venice, where Bianco seems to have executed and signed it. The designs on the leaves are as follows:

I. Description of the Rule of Marteloio (la raxon de marteloio) for resolving the course,
with the "circle and square", two tables and two other diagrams; to the right a windrose.
Above is the signature: Andreas. biancho. de ueneciis me fecit. m.cccc. xxxvj.
II. FIRST CHART: coasts of the Black Sea.
III. SECOND CHART: coasts of the Eastern Mediterranean.
IV. THIRD CHART: coasts of the Central Mediterranean.
V. FOURTH CHART: coasts of Spain and Portugal, NW Africa, and Atlantic islands
(Azores, Madeira, Cape Verde Islands, Antillia, Satanaxio ).
VI. FIFTH CHART: coasts of North Spain, France and Flanders, the British Isles.
VII. SIXTH CHART: coasts of the Baltic, Denmark and Scandinavia.
VIII. SEVENTH CHART, on a smaller scale: all the coasts of Europe and NW Africa
comprised in the previous six charts.
IX. Circular world map, 25 cm in circumference.
X. Ptolemaic world map on Ptolemy's first (conic) projection, with graduation.

The first five charts are drawn and colored in the usual portolan style, with strongly accented coastlines; they are on a common scale, and oriented with south to the top (as indicated by the writing of names and legends not on the coasts). The sixth chart is drawn in somewhat different style, with the coastlines traced in smooth broad curves, suggesting less detailed knowledge or information from hearsay. The seventh chart embraces the "normal portolani area, with some extension to the north (from the sixth chart) and to the south and west (from the fourth chart). The geographical delineations in this and in the circular world map agree on the whole with those in the six special charts and seem to be generalizations from them. The world map has iconographic representations of kings, natives, and so on.

The incongruous appearance of a circular mappamundi of archaic design and a Ptolemaic world map in this company has prompted the suspicion that one or both may have been added to the atlas at a later date. The similarity of the handwriting in these two maps and in the rest of the atlas, however, leaves little doubt that they were executed at the same time as the other charts, or else a little later and certainly at the same time as one another.

In its general character the circular world map faithfully reproduces the pattern introduced by Fra Paolino and Petrus Vesconte (Slide #228) over a century earlier, augmented only by the representation of northwest Africa and the Atlantic islands borrowed from Bianco's charts. Neither in design nor in content does its author seem to have sought novelty; there is no attempt at originality of design as in Pirrus de Noha's world map (Slide #239), or at conscientious scrutiny of sources, as in the maps of Leardo and Fra Mauro. Rather than dismiss Bianco as "a casual and untutored cartographer", it is tempting to speculate that in adding the two world maps to his atlas he was deliberately presenting side-by-side the old world picture and the new, the geographical lore of the Christian Middle Ages and the lately discovered geography of Ptolemy; just as 16th century editors of the Geographia printed a modern world map, based on experience, alongside the traditional maps of the Ptolemaic atlas. The first Latin translation of Ptolemy's Greek text was completed by the Florentine Jacopo d'Angiolo in 1406, and the maps were turned into Latin soon after. Bianco's copy of the Ptolemaic world map, made in Venice in 1436, testifies to the diffusion of the Latin manuscripts of the Geographia and has a possible relevance to the Ptolemaic echoes in the nomenclature of the Vinland Map (Slide #243 ), few and faint though they are.

LOCATION: British Library, London

Bagrow, L., History of Cartography, pp. 70-72.
*Brown, L.A., The Story of Maps, pp. 126-127.
*Destombes, M., Mappemonde, A.D. 1200-1500, #54.16.
Harvey, P.D.A., Medieval Maps, pp. 52, 68.
*Kimble, G.H.T., Geography in the Middle Ages, pp. 184, 198-201.
*Nordenskiöld, A.E., Facsimile Atlas, pp. 34, 52, 53, 65.
*Skelton, et al, The Vinland Map and the Tartar Relation, pp. 107-239, plate VI.
Woodward, D., The History of Cartography, Volume I, pp. 317, 412-14, 432-3, 440-42.


Late Medieval Maps