TITLE: The Leardo World Maps
DATE: 1442 -1453
AUTHOR: Giovanni Leardo
DESCRIPTION: During the late Middle Ages a Venetian by the name of Giovanni
Leardo compiled a series of wall-maps that were based, in their general
arrangements, upon earlier cartographic designs. All of the four world maps
attributed to Leardo have characteristic features of both the T-O diagrams
of Isidore (Slide #205), and the zonal maps of Macrobius
(Slide #201). However, a more precise delineation
of the Mediterranean area based upon contemporary nautical or portolano
charts and place names culled from the accounts of medieval travelers to
the Orient, combine to make these maps significant improvements over many
of the more stylized mappamundi of the period.
The oldest, as well as the crudest and simplest, of these four Leardo maps
is preserved in the Biblioteca Communale Library at Verona, Italy and carries
the date 1442. The second, 1447, is known only through references in literature.
The third, 1448, somewhat more elaborate in design, belongs to the Museo
Civico at Vicenza. The fourth and largest Leardo world map (23 x 28.5 inches),
belonging to the American Geographical Society, bears the signature in the
lower righthand corner: Johanes Leardus de Venetiis me fezit abano domini
145 [?]. The last digit in this inscription is partly mutilated; however,
considering cartographic evidence, the associated calendars and other pertinent
data, most scholars have agreed that the date is either 1452 or 1453.
This monograph will primarily address itself to the last of the Leardo maps.
This map does share a special feature with the others, namely the exceptional
addition of a series of rings surrounding the circular map-disk, which constitute
an elaborate calendar. The description and explanation of these rings or
circles is found as part of a broader text in the frame or panel located
below the map itself. The inscription on this particular Leardo map is somewhat
awkwardly phrased in the Venetian dialect of the 15th century; but, although
the beginning of each line is missing, the meaning is fairly clear, especially
when certain of the missing lines are reconstructed from the corresponding
inscription on the map in Vicenza of 1448.
In the first two lines the cartographer makes an excursion into the realm
of theology. This passage exposes the fact that Leardo was definitely not
a theologian. He misquotes the Nicene Crede and runs the Trinity and the
person of Christ together as if they were the same thing. This passage is
followed by a statement that the map shows how the land and islands stand
in relation to the seas and how the many provinces and mountains and principal
rivers are distributed on the land. Then, on the asserted authority of Macrobius,
a very excellent astrologer and geometrician, figures are given for
the dimensions of the earth and various heavenly bodies. These estimates
are quite fanciful, bearing little relation to the corresponding figures
actually cited by Macrobius.
Commentaria in somnium Scipionis, 20:20, a treatise by Macrobius,
gives the diameter of the earth as 80,000 stades, which might, if
converted into Arabic miles, be approximately the 6,857 miles of Leardo,
other figures are even more at odds.
The astronomical details are followed in the third paragraph by the explanation
of the calendar. The latter consists of eight concentric circles, of which
the innermost gives the dates of Easter for ninety-five years, from April
1, 1453 to April 10, 1547; when Easter falls in April, the letter A
is written in the small compartment; when in March, M ; leap years
are designated by B (bissextile years ).
The second circle shows the names of the months, beginning with March, which
was officially reckoned the first month of the year in the Republic of Venice
until as late as 1797; it also tells the day, hour, and minute when the
sun enters each of the twelve signs of the zodiac.
The third, fourth, fifth and sixth circles enable one to calculate the phases
of the moon. In the third circle the first nineteen letters of the alphabet
represent, in order, the years of the Metonic Luni-solar cycle. These years
were usually designated by the golden numbers, but before the Gregorian
reform letters were frequently employed in place of the numbers. Leardo
explains that C (golden number 10) stands for 1453, D
for 1454, and so on until T is reached, after which we begin over
again at A. A letter is placed opposite the figures (in the fourth,
fifth and sixth circles) showing, respectively, the day of the month, the
hour of the day and the point of the hour at which the conjunction of the
moon (i.e. new moon) will take place in the years to which the letters refer.
For example, there will be a new moon on April 8, 1453, at 16 hours, 200
points. Leardo adds that there are 1,080 points in an hour.
The seventh circle gives the dominical, or Sunday, letters;
these are indicated opposite the days of the month (fourth circle) on which
Sunday falls in the years designated by the first letters (seven) of the
alphabet. If we know the dominical letter for any particular year, i.e.,
G = 1453, we may thus determine the days of the week. However, Leardo does
not specify the years to which the dominical letters in his calendar refer.
The eighth and ninth circles give the lengths of the days in hours and minutes.
From this we see that the vernal equinox fell on March 11, inasmuch as the
calendar was constructed before the Gregorian reform. Finally, in the tenth
circle saints' days and other religious festivals are shown.
The four figures in the spaces between the calendar and the outer edge of
the parchment represent the four evangelists: the lion for St. Mark, the
bull for St. Luke, the angel for St. Matthew and the eagle (of which only
the head shows) for St. John.
THE MAP DISK
Leardo draws a circular landmass, or oikoumene [known world], surrounded
by a narrow strip of water. One cannot, however, question his belief in
the sphericity of the earth, for otherwise he would hardly have held the
views expressed in the panel below the calendar. Furthermore, his two legends
relating to the fiery and frozen deserts echo a theory that was propounded
in classical times and based upon the hypothesis of a spherical earth. Briefly,
this theory, ascribed to Crates of Mallos ( Slide #113),
states that around the equatorial circumference of the globe is a fiery
zone so intensely hot that no man can cross it. This zone cuts off all communication
with the southern hemisphere. The north and south polar caps are uninhabitable
because of the extreme cold. An ocean encircling the globe from the north
to the south intercepts communication with the half of the northern hemisphere
that lies opposite the oikoumene. Many other maps of the world made
in the Middle Ages also illustrated this conception, i.e., those of Macrobius,
Bianco, the Catalan-Estense, etc. Therefore, in his world maps Leardo
did not intend to represent either a flat disk or a complete hemisphere,
but merely display a circular portion of the earth's surface Iying north
of the equator.
In its orientation, with east and the Terrestrial Paradise at the
top and with Jerusalem at the center, the map follows the Christian tradition
of the earlier Middle Ages, hence the long axis of the Mediterranean runs
vertically up the southern half of the disk. Other features reflecting the
religious or scriptual influence are Noah's Ark resting on top of Mt. Ararat,
Mt. Sinai, the exaggerated length of the River Jordan and an inscription
in the far northeast referring to Gog and Magog.
Later medieval contacts between Europe and remote lands are revealed in
names derived from Western travelers such as Marco Polo who had visited
the Orient, as well as in the Arabic names in Asia and Africa.
In contrast to the earlier medieval cartography, such as the T-O maps which
were symbolically drawn, in the Leardo map the contours of the Mediterranean
and of western Europe are surprisingly well drawn and easily recognizable,
obviously being based upon sea-charts known as portolanos.
This Leardo map, painted on parchment, displays the seas a uniform blue
color, with of course the exception of the Red Sea which is appropriately
colored. The lands are left the natural color of the bleached parchment
except for a fiery red region in the far south bearing the legend: Desert
uninhabited because of heat, and a dreary brown waste in the far north
marked: Desert uninhabited because of cold. Islands are tinted either
red or yellow, with green patches in the interior of Great Britain and Ireland.
The only other natural features depicted are mountains, rivers and lakes,
although certain deserts are mentioned in legends. Mountain ranges are represented
by rows of mounds, alternately red, green and blue, and each rising symmetrically
in two or three steps. Rivers are blue and, as frequently on medieval maps,
sometimes connect one sea with another, or at least have common sources.
A yellow lake, labeled Sandy Sea, lies in the midst of the Sahara.
Vignettes of castles, walled towns and churches symbolize cities, kingdoms
and regions. In most cases the names have been written upon the vignettes
themselves; since the latter are also colored pink or green, the letters
are frequently obscured and quite illegible. Many towns and districts are
shown by red dots beside which the names are written in ink, once black
but now faded with age. These names were inserted after the vignettes were
drawn, for in many instances they are tilted or compressed to fit the available
space. The draftsman did not venture to write any name to the left of the
dot to which it belongs; as he could not write on the blue of the seas,
he was obliged to invert the map in the case of places on south-facing coasts.
Names of islands and seas, which had to be written on water surfaces, are
enclosed in small yellow panels. The names of the continents, the two inscriptions
relating to the polar and equatorial deserts, and the words Terrestrial
Paradise are in red capitals; but all other names are in minuscule,
usually without an initial capital. Besides place-names there are a few
Winds blowing from the four cardinal and four intermediate points of the
compass are shown by eight faces around the edge of the disk. Those to the
north, northwest and northeast are blue, suggesting cold blasts from these
quarters; the other faces are ruddy.
Although decorative, the Leardo map lacks many of the pictorial elements
such as animals, birds, preposterous monsters that enliven the blank spaces
on other medieval maps. With the exception of the eight wind faces and the
symbolic figures of the evangelists no living creatures, whether animals
or men, are graphically represented.
Among the existing maps dating from the 14th and early 15th centuries this
Leardo map of 1452 is very closely related to the group of maps drawn by
the famous Catalan cartographers of Majorca in the Balearic Islands. In
its general outlines it is so similar to the Catalan-Estense map
of 1450 (Slide #246) that we may assume a common
cartographic ancestor of recent vintage. There are certain legends and place
names that are found on one and not the other, however, their real similarity
lies in their coastal outlines.
A brief discussion of each of the four major geographical areas, Asia, Africa,
the Mediterranean and Europe, will reveal some of the salient points of
this map as outlined in the enclosed numbered sketch-map (from Wright
). For a more detailed account of all of the numbered features of this
outline map see Wright's monograph.
ASIA: In the extreme north (left-hand side) there is a large structure
that looks like an Italian church with its campanile (#13). The legend beneath,
suggested ultimately by a passage from Marco Polo, runs about thus: [This
is] the sepulcher of the [Grand Khan] and they do this when he comes to
be carried for interment: he comes accompanied by many armed men who kill
those whom they find on the roads, and they say that the souls of these
are blessed because they accompany the soul of the Grand Khan to another
life. Marco Polo adds that at the time of the funeral of Mongol Khan
20,000 persons were thus slain ! The actual place of burial of the Mongol
Khans was in Cathay, far away from northern Russia where Leardo,
following the model of Catalan maps, draws it. European cartographers of
the 14th and 15th centuries seem to have known and cared little about the
relative positions of places in Asia; as Italian merchants by this time
had established contacts with the Mongols in southern Russia, what was more
natural than to place the Mongol overlord's tomb in the hinterland of the
Black Sea ? Here there was more available space than in the far east, and
here also, on the Leardo map, the Grand Khan's tomb could be made symmetrically
to provide balance for Prester John's palace on the other side of the map
in Africa (#299).
South of the sepulcher can be seen the River Volga (#6, #7) flowing into
the northwestern corner of the Caspian (#250). A branch from the east (#8),
perhaps the Kama, joins the Volga where the latter bends at a right angle
to the south. East of the lower Volga is a desert of thirty days (#10),
Polo's mysterious demon-haunted desert of Lop, where the traveler
hears ringing bells and other uncanny sounds (possibly 'singing sands').
Like the Grand Khan's tomb, this desert is also woefully misplaced, since
the actual desert of Lop lies in eastern Chinese Turkestan. This mislocation
error is also to be found on the Catalan Atlas of 1375 (Slide
#235) and the Catalan-Estense map of 1450 (Slide
Farther east, beyond a row of six castles representing towns on the borderlands
of China (#35-40), we come to a gulf of the encircling ocean and to a great
system of mountains. The gulf (#11), which contains three islands, appears
in almost the same position and form on the Estense map, where there
is a legend explaining that on the islands griffons and falcons are found
and that the natives are not allowed to kill them without the permission
of the Grand Khan of the Tatars. This is also from Marco Polo, who writes
that the islands where these birds are bred lie so far north that the North
Star is left behind you in the south ! The mountains southeast of the gulf
make an enclosure shaped something like a ø (#42-47). Inside the
northern half of this ø a legend tells us that this is the province
of Gog and Magog, where many tribes of the Jews were shut in (#70),
referring to the medieval tradition that Alexander the Great enclosed Gog
and Magog, he terrible hordes of the Anti-Christ , within the Caspian
Mountains. On maps the mountains of Gog and Magog in the Far East
are named thus. Leardo, however, places M°Gaspio [Caspiae Montes]
(#4) north of the Caspian Sea somewhat nearer the position at which Ptolemy
had placed them. To the mountains of Gog and Magog he assigns names derived
from Ptolemy's northeastern Asia. Running westward from the southern basin
formed by these mountains Leardo has added a river (#49), the Oechardes
of Ptolemy. Near the point where this river emerges from the mountain rim
there is a red spot labeled Iron Gate (#72) and, immediately to the
west, two short red marks, Statues of Alexander (#73). The Iron Gate was
built by Alexander in the wall enclosing Gog and Magog, and the statues
represent trumpeters set up to keep guard over these unclean hordes. On
the Catalan maps the trumpeters themselves are shown with their trumpets.
Immediately west of the statues appears Mount Tanacomedo (#48), apparently
Leardo copied Montana Comedorum from a Ptolemaic map, combining the
last part of the first word with the first part of the last. At the extreme
eastern edge of the world disk lies the Terrestrial Paradise (#63)
surrounded by an enormous wall to keep out curious intruders. The River
Indus flows southwestward to a great delta near the entrance of the Persian
Gulf (#84). Many of the place-names in India correspond with those of the
Catalan maps and in turn were derived from Marco Polo. The scene of St.
Thomas' mission and of the early introduction of Christianity into India
is indicated by the inscription: Here preached St. Thomas (#113).
In central Asia there are two rivers entering the eastern side of the Caspian
Sea, the Jaxartes (#117) and the Oxus (#118). The Lake
of Aral, in which these great streams actually have their outlet, seems
to have been wholly unknown to the geographers both of antiquity and of
medieval Europe. Moslem scholars, however, were aware of its existence.
Leardo places the castles of Organa and of Organzia [Urganj]
(#120,121) at the mouth of the Jaxartes and his place-name Orcania
(#132) on the Oxus.
The Tigris and Euphrates (#165,166) join, reaching the Persian Gulf (#267)
as a single stream flowing between two large edifices that represent Susiana
(#172) and Babylonia (#173). To the east of the Tigris a nameless
river (#139) having its headwaters in a large lake (#138) also enters the
Persian Gulf. This same stream on the Catalan Atlas and on the
Catalan-Estense map rises in a double source, two bodies of water that
have been identified with Lakes Van and Urmia. Leardo connects the Euphrates
with the Mediterranean through the Orontes (#168) and with the Red
Sea (#268) through the Jordan (#167).
The most prominent feature in Arabia is Mecca (#211), a large domed
and towered building in good Italian Renaissance style and presumably representing
a mosque. Several corrupted Turkish place-names, along with classical names
appear in Asia Minor.
The Indian Ocean is filled with yellow and red islands. A legend asserting
that pepper and spice are found in these islands (#275) comes from Marco
Polo's description of the East Indian archipelago. The largest of these
islands, Iying off the coast of India, is marked Taprobana (#269)
and probably represents Sumatra.
AFRICA: On Leardo's map, this continent, like that of the Catalan-Estense
map, has a very unusual shape (see outline map comparison ). Two gulfs reach
inland from the Indian Ocean and from the Atlantic, partially cutting off
the southern extremity of the African continent. On the Estense map
the eastern gulf is not as prominent as that of Leardo's map, but the western
gulf is even deeper. Kretschmer suggests that these features have sprung
from a combination of the ancient doctrine of a vast austral continent with
Ptolemy's theory that the Indian Ocean is surrounded by land. Certain Arabic
maps show an eastward projection of Africa like those of the Estense map
and Leardo, although they do not indicate anything corresponding to the
Prester John's castle (#299) looms large in the interior of Africa. In the
12th century, reports spread through Europe of the vast realm of a fabulous
Christian monarch in the heart of Asia. By the 14th century, however, Prester
John's empire had been transferred to Africa, where it became associated
with the Christian kingdom of Abyssinia. The elaborate edifice with
which Leardo represents Prester John's empire may be intended for the sumptuous
palace described in the 13th century Letter of Prester John.
Like most medieval cartographers, Leardo makes the Nile (#312) rise in West
Africa (#338). In this he follows Herodotus, Pliny, Mela and other ancient
authorities. Ptolemy, however, seems to have had a more correct view, placing
the sources of the river in the Mountains of the Moon in eastern
Africa. Nothing daunted, most of the 15th century cartographers who used
the writings of Ptolemy boldly transferred the Mountains of the Moon
to West Africa to suit their theory of the river's course. Thus, on
the Leardo map the Montes Lunae (#334) are located on the north coast
of the West African gulf. Thence four streams flow north into a lake, out
of which the Nile makes its way eastward and another stream flows westward
into the Atlantic. The latter stream represents, perhaps, a combination
of the Niger and Senegal, of which some faint knowledge may have been gained
through traders who had crossed the Sahara. The lower Nile is joined by
the River Stapus (#313), doubtless the Astapus of Ptolemy or the
modern Blue Nile. On the Catalan-Estense map (Slide
#246)this tributary rises in the Terrestrial Paradise, there
placed in East Africa. To the mountain range of North Africa, the Carena
of the Catalan maps, Leardo has added Ptolemaic names.
THE MEDITERRANEAN: The outlines of the Mediterranean (#433) and Black
Seas (#431) are more correct than any other features which Leardo draws.
This, of course, is due to the fact that they were derived ultimately from
the portolan charts. Leardo preserves the faulty orientation of the Mediterranean
characteristic of the latter. If we assume that the perpendicular line extending
from the wind-blower off the west coast of Spain through Jerusalem, to the
wind-blower east of the Terrestrial Paradise, is intended to run
due east and west, we see that the axis of the Mediterranean with the adjoining
shores has been turned counter-clockwise some twelve degrees. This is probably
because of failure on the part of the makers of the original portolan
charts to take into consideration the declination of the compass.
Leardo's place-names along the Mediterranean and Black Sea coasts are all
derived from the portolan charts, although Leardo wrote names only where
it was easy to do so without crowding. The least successful portion of Leardo's
Mediterranean coast is that of Spain: the shore here is unduly elongated
as compared with that of the Catalan-Estense map, Barcelona (#475)
and Ampurias (#476) being placed too far northeast on what ought to be the
French shore line.
EUROPE: As on the Catalan maps, the geography of northwestern Europe
is badly distorted. The Seine (#448), Rhine (#487) and Elbe (#488) all flow
parallel with one another but slightly to the south of west. The course
of the Danube (#552) with its southern branches is more true to nature.
The Baltic Sea (#577) and Scandinavia are drawn to the scale much the same
as on the Estense map.
LOCATIONS: Biblioteca Communale Library , Verona, Italy (1442)
Biblioteca Civica Bertoliana , Vicenza (1448)
American Geographical Society, Milwaukee University (1452)
*Brown, L.A., TheWorld Encompassed, #21.
*Destombes, M., Mappemonde, A.D. 1200-1500, #52.7, 52.8, 52.9.
*Harley, J.B., The History of Cartography, Volume I, pp. 316-318, 327, 336,
338, 358, plate 20 (color).
*Skelton, R.A., The Vinland Map and the Tartar Relation
*Wright, J.K., The Geographical Lore at the Time of the Crusades
*Wright, J.K., The Leardo Map, a monograph.