Introduction | Contents | Download as PDF (132mb)

<< Previous Next >>

Chapter 11


Since classical times the countries bordering the enclosed waters of the Mediterranean had been well versed in the use of maps and sea charts and in Italy, more than anywhere else, the traditional knowledge was kept alive during the many hundreds of years following the collapse of the Roman Empire. By the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries the seamen of Venice, Genoa and Amalfi traded to far countries, from the Black Sea ports and the coasts of Palestine and Egypt in the East to Flanders and the southern coasts of England and Ireland in the West, their voyages guided by portulan charts and the use of the newly invented compass. For a time Italian supremacy in cartography passed to Aragon and the Catalan map makers based on Majorca, but by the year 1400 the power and wealth of the city states of Venice, Genoa, Florence and Milan surpassed any in Europe. Florence, especially, under the rule of the Medici family, became not only a great trading and financial centre but also the focal point of the rediscovery of the arts and learning of the ancient world. In this milieu a number of manuscript world maps were produced, of which one by Fra Mauro (c. 1459) is the most notable, but the event of the greatest importance in the history of cartography occurred in the year 1400 when a Florentine, Palla Strozzi, brought from Constantinople a Greek manuscript copy of Claudius Ptolemy's Geographia, which, 1,250 years after its compilation, came as a revelation to scholars in Western Europe. In the following fifty years or so manuscript copies, translated into Latin and other languages, became available in limited numbers but the invention of movable-type printing transformed the scene: the first copy without maps being printed in 1475 followed by many with copper-engraved maps, at Bologna in 1477, Rome 1478, 1490, 1507 and 1508, and Florence 1482.

About the year 1485 the first book of sea charts, compiled by Bartolommeo dalli Sonetti, was printed in Venice and in the first part of the sixteenth century a number of world maps were published, among them one compiled in 1506 by Giovanni Contarini, engraved by Francesco Rosselli, which was the first printed map to show the discoveries in the New World. In the following years there were many attractive and unusual maps of Islands (Isolano) by Bordone, Camocio and Porcacchi, but more important was the work of Giacomo (Jacopo) Gastaldi, a native of Piedmont who started life as an engineer in the service of the Venetian Republic before turning to cartography as a profession. His maps, produced in great variety and quantity, were beautifully drawn copperplate engravings and his style and techniques were widely copied by his contemporaries. From about 1550 to 1580 many of Gastaldi's maps appeared in the collections of maps known as Lafreri 'atlases', a term applied to groups of maps by different cartographers brought together in one binding. As the contents of such collections varied considerably they were no doubt assembled at the special request of wealthy patrons and are now very rare indeed.

About this time, for a variety of historical and commercial reasons, Italy's position as the leading trading and financial nation rapidly declined and with it her superiority in cartography was lost to the vigorous new states in the Low Countries. That is not to say, of course, that Italian skills as map makers were lost entirely for it was not until 1620 that the first printed maps of Italy by an Italian, Giovanni Magini, appeared, and much later in the century there were fine maps by Giacomo de Rossi and Vincenzo Coronelli, the latter leading a revival of interest in cartography at the end of the century. Coronelli was also famous for the construction of magnificent large-size globes and for the foundation in Venice in 1680 of the first geographical society.

In the eighteenth century the best-known names are Antonio Zatta, Rizzi-Zannoni and Giovanni Cassini, examples of whose work are noted in the following pages.

Before leaving this chapter we ought to mention the work of Baptista Boazio who drew a series of maps in A Summarie and True Discourse of Sir Francis Drake's West Indian Voyage, published in 1588-89, and who is especially noted for a very fine map of Ireland printed in 1599 which was incorporated in the later editions of the Ortelius atlases. It is perhaps appropriate also to refer to two English map makers who spent many years in exile in Italy: the first, George Lily, famous for the splendid map of the British Isles issued in Rome in 1546, and the second, Robert Dudley, who exactly one hundred years later was responsible for the finest sea atlas of the day, Dell' Arcano del Mare, published in Florence. Both of these are described in greater detail elsewhere in this handbook.



The early Italian editions of Ptolemy's Geographia up to 1511 are set out below: later editions are shown under the name of the appropriate cartographer or publisher. See also Appendix A for complete list of Ptolemy editions.

  • c. 1477 Bologna: Latin text: z6 copperplate maps
  • 1478 Rome: do : 27 do 1490, 1507 (plus 6 modern maps), 1508 (plus world map)
  • 1480-82 Florence: Italian text: 3 1 copperplate maps
  • Venice : Latin text: 27 woodcut maps plus world map on heart-shaped projection


Sonetti, whose real name was Zamberti, was a Venetian sea captain who compiled and had published about 1485 an 'island-book'. These were the very first printed sea charts and were the forerunners of a number of similar works which appeared during the following century. The descriptive text was in verse or sonnet form, hence the name by which Zamberti became known.

  • c. 1485 Isolano (island- book) (4t0) 49 woodcut charts of the Greek islands 1532 Re-issued with the addition of a world map by Francesco Rosselli


The world map compiled by Contarini and engraved by Rosselli is the oldest surviving printed map showing any part of the American continent, the only known copy of which is in the British Library. Little is known of Contarini but Rosselli was established in Florence as an engraver, publisher and map seller, the earliest business of that kind of which we have record. He probably engraved some of the 'new' maps in the editions of Ptolemy's Geographia published in Florence in 1480-82.

  • c. 1506 World Map

PIETRO coppo c. 1470-1555

 Venetian geographer, of interest for a small woodcut map of the British Isles printed in Venice and a map of Istria.

  • c. 1520-25 British Isles: woodcut
  • c. 1524 World Map
  • Istria: woodcut 1540 Re-issued


Born in Padua, Bordone trained as an 'illuminator' and wood-engraver, working in Venice where, in 1508, he was given permission by the Senate to print maps of Italy and the world. No copies of these maps seem to have survived and he is known, therefore, only for his Isolano, printed in Venice in 1528. Although issued as an 'Island Book' it gave prominence to discoveries in the New World and contained three full-size woodcut maps: the World, on an oval projection probably devised by the Florentine engraver, Francesco Rosselli, a map of Europe as a whole, and one of Greece and the North-Eastern Mediterranean. The remainder, about 80 woodcuts, are small maps or 'charts' set in the text of the book.

  • Isolano (small folio) 1534,1547, c. 1565 Re-issued


A Venetian engraver and book printer notable for having produced in 1539 what is claimed to be the first printed chart intended for use at sea rather than as a decorative map. Although it was no doubt based on manuscript portulan charts, the distortion of coastlines and lack of scale and landmarks would have made its practical use hazardous in the extreme. Vavassore also issued a 4-sheet map of Italy which was eventually used by Magini in compiling his Atlas of Italy. Throughout his life Vavassore continued to use woodcut engraving for producing maps although most of his contemporaries followed Gastaldi in the use of copper.  

  • c. 1532-59 Maps of Spain, France and other European countries
  • Chart of the Adriatic, Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean 1541, 1558 Re-issued
  • c. 1550-60 Map of Italy: 4 sheets

 Plate: BENEDETTO BORDONE Island ofKa/o)eros/Ca/oiero. Published in Bordone's Isolano, 1547. A rocky islet in the Aegean, possibly in the neighbourhood of Kos, surmounted by a chapel to which two Christian monks devoted their lives. In spite of their presence it was a place of ill repute to seafarers. According to one account, their unusual method of safeguarding themselves against pirates was circumvented by stratagem and they were carried off to bondage in nearby Turkey.

GEORGE LILY fl. 1528-59

See Chapter 15 for a biographical note and details of his map of the British Isles.


Praised as 'that most excellent of cartographers', Gastaldi was a native of Piedmont and worked in early life as an engineer in the service of the Venetian Republic before turning in the early 1540s to cartography as a profession. Eventually he was appointed Cosmographer to the Republic. From 1544 onwards he produced a large number of maps beautifully engraved on copper, using a style which was widely copied by his contemporaries; indeed, his technique marked the final transition away from woodblock printing which had been predominant for so long. Apart from compiling maps of the world and the continents he was responsible for the maps in an edition of Ptolemy issued in 1548 and in a noted collection of voyages and travels called De/le Navigazione e Viaggi by Giovanni Battista Ramusio (1485-1557). Many of his maps were included in the Lafreri collections of maps in the 1560-80 period.

  • Gastaldi is credited with popularizing the idea that a route round the north of the American continent led to a passage which he called the Strait of Anian, named after Marco Polo's Kingdom of Anian. The name appeared on many maps until well into the seventeenth century.
  • Universale: the World on oval projection. Widely copied by other cartographers of the period.
  • Ptolemy's Geographia: Venice. The first edition in Italian, translation by Pietro Mattioli of Siena and the first printed pocket atlas': 170 x 115 mm
  • (See Appendix A for issue details.)
  • c. 1554-65 Maps in Ramiisio's Delle Navigazione e Viaggi
  • Numerous re-issues
  • Maps of Africa, Asia and Europe
  • Map of Italy: 3 sheets

Plate: ANTONIO LAFRERI La Francia & Ia Spagna & Ia Fiandra. This map of South-Western Europe published in Rome c 1554 was the first map of the area issued bv Lafreti

ANTONIO LAFRERI (Rome) 1512-77

NICHELE TRAMEZINI (Rome) fl. 1539-82

ANTONIO SALAMANCA (Rome) fl. 1553-62

CLAUDIO DUCHETTI (Rome) fl.1554-97


DONATO and FERANDO BERTELLI (Venice) fl. 1559-84

PAOLO FORLANI (Venice) fl.1560-74

For a short time round the middle of the sixteenth century, in the period between the publication of Munster's Geographia (1540) and Cosmographia (1544) in Basle and the Ortelius Theatrum Orbis Terrarum in Antwerp (1570), the increasing demand for sheet maps was met by engravers and publishers in Rome and Venice, of whom the above-named were the most active. It became the practice in those cities to issue in one volume maps by various cartographers, the maps varying in shape and size but being bound in uniform style and usually arranged in standard 'Ptolemaic' order. The collections, of which no two are quite alike, were probably made up to individual requirements and are now exceedingly rare. They have become known generically as Lafreri Atlases from Lafreri's imprint in a number of them but similar collections were issued by other publishers.

  • c. 1550-75 Map collections with varying contents and without title until C. 1570- 72 when a frontispiece showing the title 'Tavole Moderne di Geografia' and a figure of Atlas was included in some issues

NICOLO ZENO fl. 1558

In 1558 Nicolo Zeno published in Venice a book of travels, accompanied by a map, based on manuscripts which he claimed gave an account of a voyage to the Arctic regions by his ancestors, Nicolo and Antonio Zeno, in the year 1380. Imaginary or not, the map gave a remarkably accurate picture of the lands of the far north and was accepted as authentic by Frobisher, Davis and other explorers and, not least, by Mercator.

  • Carta da Naregarde Nicolo et Antonio Zeni: woodcut: 275 x 375 Mm 1561-74 Re-engraved on copper plate by G. Ruscelli and published in Venice:180 x 240 mm


Ruscelli was editor of a revised and expanded edition of Ptolemy's Geographia which was issued in Venice several times between 1561 and the end of the century. The newly engraved maps were based, generally, on those compiled by Giacomo Gastaldi for the Venice edition of 1548.

  • 1561 Geographia 1562, 1564,1574,1598-99 Re-issued (See Appendix A for further detail.)


Noted for the publication in Venice of a map of North America which was the first printed map to show the Strait of Anian as propounded a few years earlier by Giacomo Gastaldi.

  • c. 1566 II Disegno del discoperto della nova Franza


Apart from contributing many individual maps to the Lafreri Atlases (q.v.), Camocio also issued in Venice an Island Book and an important 4-sheet map of the world copied from a work, now lost, by Gastaldi.

  • Cosmographia Universalis (after Giacom Gastaldi) 1581 Re-issued
  • 1572-74 Isole famose


Following Bordone and Camocio, Porcaechi issued in Venice another 'Island Book' incorporating later discoveries and including maps of the world and the continents. It continued to appear in new editions for over a century.

  • L'Isole piu Famose del Alondo (4to) Miniature maps engraved by Girolamo Porro 1576, 1590, 1604, 1605, 1620, 1713 Reissued 1586 Re-engraved: many reissues 


A Venetian engraver and book illustrator who engraved maps in the following works:

  • L'Jsole piu Famose del Alondo (4to) by Tomaso Porcacehi
  • Ptolemy's Geographia (4to) edited by Giovanni Magini (See Appendix A for further detail.)


 A Jesuit priest who spent much of his life in the Far Fast and became known as 'the Apostle of China' . Ricci compiled a map of the world which was printed in China in 1584 followed by two later versions also printed there.

  • World map: Shao-King 1599 Re-issued in Nanking 1602 Re-issued in Peking

LIVIO SANUTO c. 1530-c. 86

  • Geografta dell'Africa (large folio): Venice The first 'atlas' of Africa containing 12 maps engraved by Giulio Sanuto

Plate: FERANDO BERTELLI L'Isola di Corfu. Map of Corfu published in a Lafreri Atlas, Rome 1564.

Plate: GIROLAMO RUSCELLI Orbis Descrip/lo. This map, the first in an Atlas to show the Old and New Worlds in separate hemispheres, was used by Ruseelli to iUustrate his edition of Ptolemy's Geographia, first issued in i 6i. This example is dated 1574.

Plate: TOMASO PORCACCHJ DA CASTILIONE Jamaica. One of the many island maps included in Porcacehi's L'Jsolepiu Famose del Mondo, first published in 1572.

BAPTISTA BOAZIO fl. 1588-1606

An Italian cartographer who spent many years working in England and is particularly noted for his map of Ireland which was widely copied and was used in later editions of the Ortelius Theatrum Orbis Terrarum.

  • A chart and four maps in A Summarie and True Discourse of Sir Francis Drake's West Indian Voyage by Walter Bigges, published in Leyden (1588) and London (1589)
  • 1599 Ireland Engraved by Renold Elstracke: published by John Sudburv


  • Map of Eastern and Southern Africa: Rome 1597 English edition


  • World Map: Rome (195 x 295 mm)
  • Maps including the Continents and the British Isles. Issued in many editions in Cologne and other cities until c. 1662


  • 1594-95 II Mondo: Florence Re-issued a number of times with different titles until c.1724
  • Ptolemy's Geografia Revision of edition by Girolamo Ruscelli, first published in 1 561
  • 1606 Viaggio da Venetia a Constantinopli: Venice (4to) 72 charts, maps and town plans
  • 1615 Teatro del Cielo e della Terra (12mo): wood cut maps c. 1640 Re-issued


A native of Padua, Magini was the first Italian to prepare a printed atlas of his native country although it was only completed and published three years after his death by his son, Fabio. The maps were based on those of Gastaldi, Vavassore and others and many were engraved by Benjamin Wright, the noted English engraver who was specially commissioned to carry out the task.

Magini also edited a new edition of Ptolemy's Geographia with maps engraved by Girolamo Porro.

  • 1596-I62I Ptolemy's Geographia (See Appendix A for issue details.)
  • 1620 Italia Atlas of Italy Containing about 55-60 maps 

ARNOLDO DI ARNOLDI fl. c. 1595-1602

Arnoldi, an engraver employed in Bologna by Magini, the noted Italian cartographer, compiled a reduced version of the famous wall map by Petrus Plancius (1592). All the issues of these maps are extremely rare.

  • 1600 World Map: Siena (10 sheets). (Published by Milatteo Florini) C. 1640, 1669 Re-issued in Siena bv Pietro Petrucci


See Chapter 15 for a biographical note and details of his sea charts.

  • Dell' Arcano del Alare 1661 Re-issued


A Jesuit priest who compiled remarkably accurate maps of China and a map of Japan which were published in Amsterdam in 1655 and were also incorporated in Blaeu's Theatrum Orbis Terrarum in that year. The maps were used in later years by other publishers including Jansson and Schenk.

  • Novus -Atlas Sinensis


  • c. 1664 Prima parte dello Specchio del Alare: atlas consisting of 25 maps and charts of the Mediterranean published in Genoa


  • 1674 World map based on Sanson
  • 1677 Maps of Asia and North America
  • c. 1690 Alercuno Geografico Further editions to 1714


Ordained as a Franciscan priest, Coronelli spent most of his life in Venice, becoming a noted theologian and being appointed, in 1699, Father General of his order. By that time he was already famous as a mathematician, cartographer and globe maker and his influence led to a revival of interest in these subjects in Italy at the end of the seventeenth century. He was certainly the greatest cartographer of his time there and became Cosmographer to the Venetian Republic, taught geography in the University and, in i68o, founded the first geographical society, the 'Academia Cosmografica degli Argonauti' .

In his lifetime he compiled and engraved over 500 maps including a large 2-volume work, the Atlante Veneto, somewhat reminiscent of Robert Dudley's Dell' Arcano del Mare; he is equally well known for his construction of very large terrestrial and celestial globes even finer than those of Blaeu, including one, 15 feet in diameter, made for Louis XIV of France.

  • Atlante Veneto
  • Isolano dell' Atlante Izeneto
  • Corso geografico universale 1695 Re-issued
  • Epitome Cosmografica
  • Libro dei Clobi 1701 Re-issued
  • World Map
  • Pacific Ocean


  • The World and the Continents: Padua


  • 1713 Unizersus terrarum orbis

Plate: VINCENZO CORONELLI Terre Artiche. Map of the Arctic Regions, published in the first part of Coronelli's marine atlas, Atlante Weneto, Venice, 1690-91.


Rizzi-Zannoni was a noted astronomer, surveyor and mathematician of great versatility . His achievements included a large scale map of Poland, appointments as Geographer to the Venetian Republic and as Hydrographer to the Depot de Marine in Paris. The maps in his various atlases were beautifully engraved, showing minute detail and embellished with elaborate cartouches. His earlier atlases were published in Paris but his later works first appeared in Naples.

  • 1760 Etrennes gcographiques: Paris Maps compiled in association with L.A.du Caille
  • 1762Atlas geographique: Paris
  • 1763 Atlas geographique et militaire: Paris
  • 1764 Atlas historique de la France: Paris
  • 1765 Le Petit Neptune Francois: Paris
  • 1772 Carte Generale de Ia Pologne (24 sheets): Paris
  • 1792 Atlante Maritimo delle due Sicilie: Naples
  • 1795 Nuova carta della Lombardia: Naples

ANTONIO ZATTA ft. c. 1775-97

A Venetian cartographer and publisher whose atlases include maps of groups of English, Scottish and Irish counties.

  • 1775-85 Atlante novissimo: 218 maps in 4 volumes
  • c. 1799 Nuovo atlante 

P. SANTINI ft. 1776-84

An Italian publisher working in Venice whose major work, an Atlas Universel, included a large number of maps by French cartographers.

  • Atlas Universel: 2 volumes
  • Atlas portatif d'Italie


  • 1792 Nuovo atlante geografico universale Vol. 1
  • 1797 do Vol.11
  • 1801 do Vol.111
  • 1793 General Map of Italy: 15 sheets

Plate: GIOVANNI ANTONIO RIZZI-ZANNONI Italy This map appeared in a very small atlas entitled Etrennes Geographiques published 'Chez Ballard' in Paris in 1760, containing maps based on those by Rizzi-Zannoni

Plate: GIOVANNI MARIA CASSINI L'Isola 0-Taiti Rome 1798. Map of the island of Tahiti included in Cassini's Nuovo atlant egeografico universale published by Calografia Camerale.

Specialist References

BAGROW, L., History of Cartography

HOWSE, D. and SANDERSON, M., The Sea Chart Gives a number of examples of early Italian sea charts

NORDENSKIOLD, A. E., Facsimile Atlas to the Early

History of Cartography

Reproductions of Ptolemaic and other early maps

SHIRLEY, R. w., The Mapping of the World Numerous examples of early Italian maps with descriptive detail


Bartolommeo (Sonetti): Isolano

Bordone: Isolano

Ptolemy: Geographia/Cosmographia 1477, 1478, 1513,1540

Sanuto: Geografia dell'Aftica

Magini: Italia

Coronelli: Libro dei Clobi

Reproductions of complete atlases

<< Previous Next >>

Introduction | Contents | Download as PDF (132mb)