La Sfera (The Sphere)

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Small folio, original vellum.

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Small folio, original vellum. Manuscript on paper containing water colour maps and drawings as well as cosmological diagrams in colours.

Florentine merchant and diarist Gregorio Dati wrote his highly popular 1,152-line poem 'La Sfera' as a textbook for children of the merchant class. In eight-lined rhyming verse, it was the first geographic primer to be written in the vernacular, unlike the more serious 'Sphaera' (see object 1988.83) of Johannes de Sacrobosco (c.1195–c.1256), on which it is based. Sacrobosco’s work was intended for university students and written in Latin; Dati’s simplified description of the cosmos is divided into four parts, the second of which is devoted to astronomical phenomena. There are many explanatory diagrams which depict various astronomical phenomena such as the eclipse of the moon and its phases. They have the earth at the centre of the cosmos, but it is shown as definitely spherical.

These maps are one of the most interesting features of the poem, since they provide a record of the state of geographical knowledge at the end of the fourteenth century. ‘La Sfera’ was popular in the author’s lifetime and continued to be held in high regard until the discoveries of Columbus and Vaco da Gama rendered it out of date.

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From 1400 to 1499

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