Geography By: Claudius Ptolemy
Published By: Conrad Swenheym / Arnold Buckinck
Date: 1507/08 (Published) Rome
Dimensions: 13 x 21 inches (33 x 53.5 cm)
An original color example of the earliest obtainable map of the world depicted with focus cartographic accuracy, which became known as "modern geography."
The map is preceded only by the unobtainable "Bologna edition" of the map, published in 1477, and the two biblically themed maps, Rudimentum Novitorum (1475) and the T-O map (1472). This example has been identified as a 1507/08 edition of the plates that were first published in 1478 as part of Claudii Ptholomei Alexandrini. Cosmographia... by: Conrad Swenheym, and then again in 1490 by his successor, Arnold Buckinck. We will discuss the process of dating the map later in this description.
Ptolemaic Cartography: the Foundation of Early Geographic Knowledge.
The map presents the Known World (or Old World) prior to the famed 1492–1493 voyage of Christopher Columbus to the New World, which he would insist was east Asia until his death in 1506. The cartography is based on the work of the 2nd-Century Alexandrian mathematician, astronomer, astrologer, and geographer Claudius Ptolemy. His gazetteer or cartographic dictionary (now lost forever) was compiled during the height of the Roman Empire and was translated into Arabic in the 9th century. This Arabic translation would become the primary source for modern geography during the European Renaissance.
Ptolemaic maps offer the first use of latitude and longitude coordinates for all the places and geographical features. Latitude is expressed in degrees of arc from the equator. His Prime Meridian, of 0 longitude, runs through what was in his time the westernmost recorded land, the Fortunate Isles. Not only was Ptolemy's coordinate system and location of 2nd century cities incredibly accurate, the novel idea of latitude and longitude remains the universal standard for identifying specific locations.
While Ptolemy firmly believed that only a portion of his world had been explored his maps only show what he knew. This resulted in a landlocked Indian Ocean and African continent to which we do not see any southern coastline. In addition, south Asian continent is hardly recognizable from what we know today and would be depicted in similar format until maps of the mid-16th century by cartographers like Sebastian Munster and Gerard de Jode. Another cartographic point of intrigue that appears for the first time is the "Lunae Mons" or Mountains of the Moon in east Africa that contain two lake that would be believed to be the source of the Nile River for centuries to come.
Determining the Date of Publication of this Map
In an effort to seek the best source for information on this map, we reached out to Dr. Robert Peerlings who with Dr. Frans Laurentius wrote the book ‘Berlinghieri’s Geography Unveiled’ and did a tremendous amount of research on the wide variety of watermarks found in the paper used for the many editions of this map.
According to Dr. Peerlings, the maps of the different Rome editions were printed in two halves and then merged into one map. The paper used to print these maps had one watermark in each sheet of paper. The maps were composed of two halves of a sheet. Thus, you will find maps with one watermark, but also maps with two watermarks or no watermark at all. Thanks to the work of Dr. Robert Peerlings and the contributions of many institutions, examples of these maps with watermarks are very easy to date. In contrast, maps without watermarks such as this example are far more difficult to date.
With consideration to this example presently being offered, we can look closer as a fine detail within the map that distinguishes 1507/08 examples from that of 1478 and 1490. In the Indian Ocean, between the equatorial line runs through as small island named Bona Fortunae. In the earlier examples, the upper line of the equator breaks behind the island whereas in this example, it runs through. This minute variance was first pointed out by our colleague Tom Suarez in his book Shedding the Veil, Mapping the European Discovery of America and the World (Singapore 1992).
For more information on dating the Ptolemaic World Map, Rome Edition, we direct you to the following sources.
Condition: This map is in B condition, printed on two sheets (joined) with original color. The oxidation of the color has eaten through the paper in several places, most notably along where the centerfold meets the green pigment. Old restorative work as done to the map, including the longitudinal numbers at bottom center where "95" is missing. Without a doubt, more can be done to revive the original information lost in this map, but we chose to leave it as is since we value the history of the piece itself and the work that has already been put in many years ago.
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