Very Early Maps from Martayan Lan

- by Michael Stillman

Martayan45

Very Early Maps from Martayan Lan

Martayan Lan, the noted New York map seller, has issued their Catalogue 45 - Early & Rare World Maps, Atlases & Rare Books. Mainly from a Private Collection. We will focus on the earliest, though everything here is early, and most very early. Of the 31 items offered, 28 were printed before 1600. These maps may not provide accurate directions for travelers today, but they do reveal what people believed the world to be during the earliest years of the Age of Discovery. They reveal the rapid progress in learning that took place during the 16th century, when the world to Europeans expanded from Europe, and a not well understood Africa and Asia, to a much better defined place that now included the Americas. Here are some of the earliest of these early maps.

 

There is no more appropriate place to start than the first printed map. It is a map of the world, though it is a small, undetailed, and undifferentiated map. Originally created almost a millennium earlier by Isidore Bishop of Seville, it was reproduced in Etymologiae, an encyclopedic type of work. This is what is known as a TO map, and it's about as primitive as it gets. It consists of a circle with a T inside. On the left side of the staff of the T is Europe, to the right Africa. Above the crossbar of the T is Asia. The staff represents the Mediterranean Sea, the crossbar some vague combination of waterways such as the Nile and Black Sea. The O, which surrounds the map, represents the oceans. The only other notations on the map are directions. The T-shape of the dividers undoubtedly represents religious symbolism, being a similar shape to a cross. Item 1. Priced at $100,000.

 

The second item in the catalogue is the one Martayan Lan describes as the first "acquirable, realistic printed map of the world." It is from the 1478 Roman Ptolemy. It provides a surprisingly realistic depiction of Europe, northern Africa, and eastern Asia. It is a map Columbus would have used, and it implied a smaller world, encouraging Columbus to believe the route to Asia heading west was far shorter than it is. $175,000.

 

The changes displayed in item 3 are subtle, yet enormously important. This is taken from the 1482 edition of Cosmographi Geographia. It is the first map to show the earliest knowledge gained during the Age of Discovery. There was no New World yet, no Columbus. However, what has been incorporated is knowledge gained from early Portuguese explorations off the west coast of Africa. The Portuguese had discovered the Cape Verde and other islands, and this map also shows the newly acquired knowledge that the coastline of Africa turned to a southeasterly direction as one headed farther south. Prior maps had cut off the continent before ever reaching that point. $65,000.

 

Item 5 is far more than a map. It is an account of the world from Creation through its time of publication - 1493. This is Hartmann Schedel's Nuremberg Chronicle, an amazingly thorough history of the world for its time. From a cartographic standpoint, it offers the last of the maps of the pre-Columbian world, that is, a world map without the New World. $225,000.