The 1531 Maggiolo Planisphere from Daniel Crouch Rare Books

- by Michael Stillman

The 1531 Maggiolo Planisphere from Daniel Crouch Rare Books

Daniel Crouch Rare Books has created a catalogue for The Vesconte Maggiolo Planisphere of 1531. The extensive presentation discusses the various manuscript maps from this era still extant and places the Maggiolo within the politics and knowledge of the time. If the cost of such a thorough presentation for one item concerns you, there is no need for worry. The planisphere is priced at $10 million. This may put it out of your price range, surely of mine, but someone will buy it. Crouch only became aware of its existence last summer, it having previously belonged to a private collector, but whether it stays private or now makes its way to an institution is to be determined.


This sea chart/map (technically portolan planisphere) of the world is enormous in size – 6 3/4' x 3'. A similar map was produced by Maggiolo in 1527, but that copy was destroyed during the Second World War. Only two now survive. Maggiolo was already an established mapmaker by 1527, albeit making smaller maps. He was born around 1476, and died about 1550. He was Italian, born in Genoa, and this map is much based on the voyages of fellow countryman Giovanni de Verrazzano, who sailed to America on behalf of France. By the 1520's, Spain and Portugal were dividing up most of the newly discovered world and dominating the trade routes. France wanted a piece of the action, and Verrazzano was hired to find a new route to the East Indies by sailing west. We now know, this being the days before the Panama Canal, he wasn't going to make it.


Instead, he brought back some of the first information about the North American coast. He arrived along the Carolinas, and briefly made his way south before turning northward. Eventually, he would travel all the way up through Atlantic Canada before returning home. Verrazzano stayed north of Florida to avoid hostile encounters with the Spanish. Among his most notable discoveries was New York harbor, the first European to spot the site of New York, New York. It was wilderness. He would discover numerous other places, and make the acquaintances of several Indian tribes. He found most to be friendly, including the Wampanoag at Narragansett Bay. Almost a century later they would greet the Pilgrims.


Crouch notes that "Maggiolo's planisphere of 1531 can be said to depict a world that never was..." True enough, though he can be forgiven. His resources were scant. The Americas have an eastern coast in Maggiolo's map, but no western ones. The continents just fade away. It also contains a mistake by Verrazzano that persisted in maps for another century. He looked over the barrier islands off the North Carolina coast and determined what he saw on the other side was the Pacific Ocean. Consequently, this, and other maps for a century, depicted a giant inland sea, crossing almost all of the center of North America, except for a small spit dividing Atlantic from Pacific. It was known as the "Sea of Verrazzano."


Interestingly, Maggiolo in effect claimed all of this territory for France. It is not clear whether he was in the employ of France like Verrazzano, but they could not have been displeased with the result. Unfortunately, the name he gave the land did not hold, "America" having been selected by Martin Waldseemuller two decades earlier. Verrazzano called it "Fransexy." Wouldn't you rather be called "Fransexy" than "American?"


The map features numerous colored images, depicting animals, natives of various lands, and ships at sea, including several sailing the Sea of Verrazzano. Writing and images are displayed in both directions, making some of it upside down no matter where you stand. It was evidently intended to be placed on a table, where sailors on both sides could view it with equal ease or difficulty.


The catalogue includes a three-page fold-out facsimile of the map. Not quite as large as the original, but impressive nonetheless. Individual pages depict sections of the map in greater detail. The catalogue provides a reasonable substitute for those not yet equipped to purchase the original.


On the other hand, it you are prepared to buy it, here is how you can contact them. Daniel Crouch Rare Books may be reached at +44 (0)20 7042 0240 or (US) 212-602-1779, or at Their website is found at