Jan 22: Books & Manuscripts at Il Ponte Casa d'Aste features a previously unknown Portolan chart

- by Thomas C. McKinney

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A previously unknown Portolan chart is coming to auction at Il Ponte Casa d'Aste on Jan 22

Milan-based auction house Il Ponte Casa d’Astewill be hosting a sale of Books and Manuscriptsthis month on January 22. Headlining the 216-lot event is a previously unknown Portolan chart, supported by other interesting material with an Italian focus. Below is Il Ponte’s (far more expert than my own) description of the c.1550 chart, with comments from me on other items following.

 

A previously unknown extraordinary portolan chart on vellum, decorated and illuminated. The chart is attributed to the circle of Vesconte Maggiolo, the most important 16th-century cartographer from Genoa. The chart depicts Europe, North Africa, the Atlantic Ocean with the Canary Islands and the northern lands of Island, Sweden and Norway; the Red Sea is at the southeastern border and the coastal cities on the Mediterranean Sea are represented in great details. The chart is decorated with 8 compass roses, a Madonna with Child, 8 tents and 28 vignettes of the cities among which the grand cities of Venice and Genoa, each with its flag.

This portolan chart is extremely similar to the one at the Beinecke Library at Yale University (Art Object 1980.156) but it presents some minor differences in the position of some of the borders and objects (some are moved by just a few mm and the place names are written in a different hand). The Yale chart is attributed to Vesconte Maggiolo although it is the only unsigned chart by the renowned cartographer. Recent studies have demonstrated and are demonstrating, that the illustrations of the cities, in the workshop of the Maggiolo family, were often applied using stamps. It is thanks to these details in this and in other of the Maggiolo charts that we can definitely attribute the chart to the Maggiolo circle, workshop and family.

The word portolano is Italian and it means a description of ports along a coastline. The first portolan charts date from the late 13th century and represent an important change in the use of maps and charts. Until this point, most maps had held a religious significance and purpose, such as the medieval mappa-mundi which was based on theological beliefs. The portolan chart contrasts with this tradition as they are based on direct observation and first-hand experience and have a practical purpose. As charts like this were for use by sailors they emphasize only coastal locations, omitting most of the internal detail of the land. Place names are written at right angles to the coast, the more important ports in red ink. The lines which cover this and all other portolan charts are lines of constant bearing known as rhumb lines.

Manuscript on vellum (798 x 1006mm) pasted on wood and surrounded by a modern brocade “all’antica”. The portolan chart was pasted on wood in the 1970s (the chart is very lightly rubbed in some parts, it has some light soiling causing some light smearing of the colours and few light creases). Of the Yale copy a digital reproduction can be found here

 Maggiolo’s chart is estimated €50,000 to €80,000. 

 

Though the chart is certainly the jewel of the sale, there is some other great material on offer. Lot 10 is a first edition of Voyage de la Pérouse au tour du monde, authored by ill-fated Jean-François la Pérouse, who disappeared in the Pacific in 1788. Il Ponte notes this particular voyage was the first French expedition to reach Alaska, the first non-Spanish Europeans to stay at Spanish settlements in California, and it is “especially celebrated for its superb mapping of the Alaskan and Californian coasts.” La Pérouse’s Voyageis estimated €6,000 to €9,000.

Lots 58, 59, and 60 make for an impressive set of works by Giovanni Battista Falda (1648-78), the 17thcentury Italian architect, engraver, and artist. Known for his engravings of Rome’s architecture, these three lots, all oblong folios, include nearly 300 engravings of Rome in all its splendor. Estimates for individual lots begin at €2,000 and top out at €6,000.

Continuing in the vein of illustrated works, lot 82 is De gli habiti antichi et moderni di diverse parti del mondoby Cesare Vecellio (1530-1601), a first edition early costume book. Vecellio was a relative of Titian, and costumes from all Europe, Asia, and Africa are depicted. Vecellio’s work is estimated €3,000 to €5,000. 

Bound watercolors are also included in the sale, with two notable offerings. Daniel Perea y Rojas’ Acquerelli preparatori del celbre album A Los Toroscomprises 31 preparatory watercolors for the famous album A Los Toros.And Joseph Franz von Jacquin’s Eclogae graminum rariorumincludes 44 botanical watercolored plates. Rojas’ work is estimated €4,000 to €6,000 as lot 74, and Von Jacquin as lot 83 for €2,000 to €3,000.

Il Ponte Casa d’Aste’s sale of Books and Manuscripts is scheduled for 3pm Central European Std Time on January 22 at their location in Milan. Viewings of the material will take place January 18 - 20. Browse the full online catalogue here.