A circular world map oriented with east at the top and Jerusalem at the centre.Full description »
A circular world map oriented with east at the top and Jerusalem at the centre.
Johann Bongars produced only one edition of this depiction of the world, which is considered to be among the most important of European printed maps. Bongars engraved a plate from the manuscript copy that once belonged to the infamous Marino Sanuto (or Sanudo) of Torcello, a crusading Venetian statesman. Sanuto included this map in his inflammatory treatise Opus Terrae Sanctae (On the Holy Land), which advocated papal support for a new crusade against the Turks. (The Avignon Pope, John XXII, remained unconvinced by Sanuto’s arguments.) Sanuto’s manuscript copy was, in turn, derived from a world map by Pietro Vesconte – the foremost map-maker of medieval Europe and the first to sign and date his works. Vesconte was famed for his portolans, the mariners’ charts drawn on animal skins that appeared after 1300. His expertise is demonstrated here in the accurate depiction of the coasts of the Mediterranean, the Black Sea (with the Sea of Azov) and Europe. Scandinavia, England, Scotland and ‘Ybernia’ (Ireland) are clearly shown. With east at the top and north at left, the map is criss-crossed by rhumb lines used in navigation.
Further afield there is less accuracy; two Caspian Seas, for instance, are illustrated. Nevertheless, working almost a hundred years before Ptolemy’s Geographia was rediscovered and read by a European public, Vesconte avoided the classical geographer’s error of joining southern Africa with East Asia and thereby making the Indian Ocean land-locked. Features of medieval mappae mundi, T-O and zonal maps appear: the world is compressed into a flat disc and around the periphery are the names of three known continents (Europe, Africa and Asia); it is oriented towards the east with Jerusalem at the centre, towards which all the main rhumb lines lead; and inscriptions allude to mythical figures and to ‘a region uninhabited because of heat’, the so-called torrid zone.
Another remarkable feature of this map is the reference to the mythical figure of Prester John, whose legend grew from the twelfth century – a wealthy and virtuous Christian king supposedly waiting to join battle with European crusaders to reclaim the Holy Land, whose legend grew from the twelfth century. Prester John’s domain is here depicted in the Far East, rather than in Africa (as it was in the Borgia Map). Also in the East are the two cannibal giants, Gog and Magog, who wait to devastate Europe. Possibly a memory of the threatened invasion of Europe by the Mongols in the previous century, they were much feared during the Middle Ages. Even the celebrated empirical philosopher Roger Bacon (c.1214–1294) believed in their existence and advocated the study of geography in order to be prepared for their attack.