Slide #248

The Genoese Map
With the development of Portuguese seafaring in the 15th century and the subsequent widening if the southern horizon, the problem of 'harmonizing' or reconciling the traditional world views laid down by Pliny, Ptolemy, Aristotle and Ambrose with that of the new discoveries became increasingly acute. Each mapmaker tackled it de novo, so that scarcely any two world maps of this period provided the same world-view. Compare, for instance, this Catalan-Estense map (Slide #246), the Walsperger world map (Slide #245) and this Genoese world map, all of approximately the same date, ca.1450. According to Kimble, there are at least three distinct influences, in addition to the portolan chart tradition, that can be detected in these examples: Classical, Christian and Arab. Of these only the Arab influence is strong, while it is improbable that the Classical influence was direct. In the Genoese Planisphere, the portolan [nautical] chart serves as the pattern for the Mediterranean region, but elsewhere it is the Ptolemaic tradition which is most drawn from in terms of the delineation of basic elements. Practically all the features of the Sahara are similar to their territorial relationships and outlines to those on a Ptolemy manuscript of 1400 in the Laurentian Library at Florence. The same influence, though not the same slavish adherence, is apparent to the south of the Sahara, where the author places a great gulf, containing an island and a legend, now barely visible, which reads: Preter tolemei tradicionem hic est guffus sed pomponius eum tradit cun eius insula [Contrary to the opinion of Ptolemy, this is a gulf, but Pomponius [Mela] speaks of it with its islands]. Or again, in another rubric:

Beyond the equinoctial line Ptolemy records an unknown land, but Pomponius [Mela] and many others as well raise a doubt whether a voyage is possible from this place to India; [nevertheless] they say that many have passed through these parts from India to Spain . . . especially Pomponius in his last chapter.

This rather refreshing disposition towards agnosticism is exemplified again in the configuration of South Africa. Here the author does not follow the Alexandrine scholar in attributing to it an eastern prolongation, but contents himself with rounding it off in the conventional way, namely, in the form of a half moon. The division of geographical loyalties at this period is further illustrated in the placing, side-by-side, of the Nile sources, located in the Montes Lunæ, after Ptolemy, and this typically medieval legend: Some have represented the Paradise of Delights in this region, while others have said that it is beyond the Indies to the East . . .

Typical of maps of the period, the anonymously compiled Genoese map is covered with legends in Latin, castellated towns representing major population centers, princes on their thrones, and loxodromes from the portolan tradition. It is very carefully drawn, particularly the outline of the Mediterranean. However this map is unusual on several counts from its contemporary medieval world maps. First is the unusual almond-shape compared to the more common round, disc-shaped and oval world maps of the period. Second is the fact that it is oriented with North at the top, a convention taken for granted today, but exceptional for the medieval period when East was the most popular, followed by the South (especially among the Arabs). Third, it has a scale, each division of which represents 100 miles. The title is rather difficult to decipher and recalls Walsperger' s map (Slide #245), an approximate translation is: This is the true description of the world of the cosmographers, accommodated to the marine [chart], from which frivolous tales have been removed.

The elliptical frame is unusual for this period, but it appears to have no great significance. The outline, particularly in Asia, is largely Ptolemaic. After the Alexandrian, the second main authority for the eastern portion is Nicolo Conti, the Venetian traveller, who reached the east Indian islands and perhaps southern China, and whose narrative was written down by Poggio Bracciolini shortly after 1447.

The details from Conti's narrative make a considerable showing: e.g., the large lake in India between Indus and Ganges of a marvellous sauerie and pleasaunt water to drink, and all those that dwell there about drink of it, and also farre off . . . the island Xilana [Ceylon] to the east of the peninsula; the great city Biznigaria, representing the Vijayanagar kingdom of southern India, which occurs in most late 15th century accounts, but here sadly misplaced near the Ganges; the details of the nature of the Ganges delta; the addition of Scyamutha [Sumatra] as an alternative name for Taprobana. The name Sine, for China, was also probably taken from Conti.

But it is perhaps in respect to the islands of the southeast that the map is of greatest interest. In the extreme east are two large islands, Java major and Java minor, and to the southeast two smaller islands Sanday et Bandam. All these are taken from the Conti narrative: Java major is thought to be Borneo, and Java minor the island now known by that name. Though the names Sanday and Bandam have not been satisfactorily explained, the reference in the legend to spices and cloves makes it fairly certain that they are islands of the Molucca group. If this is so, this is the first time that the much sought after spice islands appear clearly on a map. Conti describes them as Iying on the extreme edge of the known world: beyond them navigation was difficult or impossible owing to contrary winds. In the southern sea there is a note: In this sea, they navigate by the southern pole (star), the northern having disappeared. This also is taken straight from Conti.

In addition to the usual medieval depiction of the mythical Gog and Magog (tribes of dangerous people enclosed in northern Asia by Alexander the Great), the Genoese map also contains a large number of drawings of zoological interest. Elephant, camel, lion, monkeys, giraffe, dragon, and crocodile appear in the Ethiopian region; griffon or black vulture, leopard, ox and polar bear appear in the Palearctic regions; and snake and storks appear in the Oriental region. This was the first time an accurate giraffe had be drawn on a map in Africa, although camelopardalis had appeared much earlier in the same area in the Ebstorf map (Slide #224). Camelopardalis, however, was only a giraffe by name, being a four-clawed spotted animal with normally a short neck. Giraffes had been known and drawn accurately at least as far back as the 3rd century B.C.

The main African interest lies in the fact that, as a departure from Ptolemy's conception, the Indian Ocean, as is also shown on the Vesconte, Bianco, the Catalan-Estense, Leardo and Fra Mauro's maps (Slide #228, 241, 242, 246, and 249), is not landlocked, and, significantly, the southern extremity of Africa does not run away eastwards, as on the Catalan-Estense map. At first sight, it is not clear that Africa is completely surrounded by the ocean, but closer examination shows that the blue of the ocean and the red on the land have faded, and that a definite coastline had been originally drawn in. This detail would be encouraging to anyone who wanted to promote the exploration of a new sea route to the Indies.

This map has attracted attention by the claim of S. Crino that the famous chart which Toscanelli sent to the King of Portugal in 1474 (Slide #252), and later but less certainly to Columbus, was a copy of it. Crino claimed that it is of Florentine, not Genoese, origin; that the style of writing and certain other features definitely indicate that it was drawn by Toscanelli; and that it agrees closely with the letter sent to Portugal with the copy, so closely in fact that the letter is merely a commentary upon it. All these arguments, and many more, have been warmly, even acrimoniously, contested. Without an expert and minute palaeographical investigation, it is impossible either to accept or reject the attribution to Toscanelli, but Crino presented a case which requires further examination. On the question, of main interest here, as to the correspondence between the letter of 1474 and the map of 1457, it is possible, however, to form some opinion. The main objection to Crino's thesis, according to Crone, is that the letter definitely refers to a chart for navigation, while the 1457 map is primarily a world map drawn by a cosmographer. Further, the Toscanelli chart presumably depicted the ocean intervening between the west coast of Europe and the 'beginning of the East'. On the map of 1457, this ocean is split into two, and falls on the eastern and western margins. Though Crino raised many points of interest, he did not establish his case beyond reasonable doubt. Biasutti argued that the horizontal and vertical lines on the map are parallels and meridians taken from the world map of Ptolemy, and that the longitudinal extent of the old world approximately corresponds to his figure of 180 degrees. It is difficult to see, therefore, if this map of 1457 was similar to that sent to Portugal, where its importance lay, for this information was accessible to all inquirers. The interest of the cartographer seems more probably to have lain in Conti's description of the oriental spice islands and the possibility of reaching them by circumnavigating Africa. His work is clearly related, though not closely, to the great map of Far Mauro, his contemporary.

LOCATION: Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, Florence, Italy

*Bagrow, L., History of Cartography, plate D (color).
*Bricker, C., Landmarks in Mapmaking, p. 115.
Crone, G.R., Maps and Their Makers, pp. 51-54.
*George, W., Animals and Maps, pp. 46, 48, 49, 161, 186, 207.
*Kimble, G.H.T., Geography in the Middle Ages, pp. 196-197.
*Skelton, R.A., The Vinland Map and the Tartar Relation, pp. 113, 127, 131-34 .


Index of Late Medieval Maps