First You Make the Maps, a Story Map produced for Lapham’s Quarterly by Elizabeth Della Zazzera, surveys maps and mapmaking for sea navigation from the 15th through the 18th centuries.
From the fifteenth to the eighteenth century, European powers sent voyagers to lands farther and farther away from the continent in an expansionist period we now call the Age of Exploration. These journeys were propelled by religious fervor and fierce colonial sentiment—and an overall desire for new trade routes. They would not have been possible without the rise of modern cartography. While geographically accurate maps had existed before, the Age of Exploration saw the emergence of a sustained tradition of topographic surveying. Maps were being made specifically to guide travelers. Technology progressed quickly through the centuries, helping explorers and traders find their way to new imperial outposts—at least sometimes. On other occasions, hiccups in cartographic reasoning led their users even farther astray.
Though I haven’t seen it, the most recent issue of Maps and History reports on the discovery of a fragment of an early portolan chart in the departmental archives of the Vaucluse. The so-called Avignon Chart (Carte d’Avignon)1 dates to around 1300, making it one of the earlier portolan charts known to exist. If you can read French, the Brussels Map Circle’s website has a lengthy article about the chart by Jacques Mille and Paul Fermon that discusses, among other things, the chart’s provenance and how its approximate age was determined. (I don’t know whether this is the same article that appears in Maps and History.) [Tony Campbell]
A Turkish filmmaker is working on a documentary about the life of Ottoman admiral and mapmaker Piri Reis, whose 1513 portolan chart, a fragment of which was rediscovered in 1929, claimed to draw upon ancient and contemporary sources, including Columbus. According to the Doğan News Agency story, the 75-minute film “will feature dramatic reconstructions starring actor Mehmet Günsur as Piri Reis, Riccardo Scamarcio as Christopher Columbus and actress Deniz Özdoğan. Can Atill will reportedly compose the music for the film.” If you can read Turkish, the website of the filmmaker, Gülsah Çeliker, is here; the movie’s website is here. The documentary is supposed to be finished by the end of the year. [WMS]
A 16th-century portolan chart is being auctioned later this month at TEFAF New York. “The map, which was created by a Genoese cartographer named Vesconte Maggiolo in 1531, is one of the first depictions of America’s eastern seaboard. It’s also the first (extant) map, ever, to show New York harbor,” Bloomberg’s James Tarmy writes. The asking price is $10 million—which would tie it with the Library of Congress’s copy of the Waldseemüller map as the most expensive map ever. The seller, Daniel Crouch Rare Books, has produced a detailed, lavishly illustrated 56-page booklet befitting a map with an eight-figure asking price. [WMS]
Maps of Paradise by Alessandro Scafi (University of Chicago Press, 11/13). Explores “the diverse ways in which scholars and mapmakers from the eighth to the twenty-first century rose to the challenge of identifying the location of paradise on a map, despite the certain knowledge that it was beyond human reach.” (Amazon)