SLIDE #242

TITLE: The Leardo World Maps
1442 -1453
Giovanni Leardo
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.

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 longer legends.

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 #246).

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 western gulf.

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.

* illustrated

Late Medieval Maps