The Cantino map, also known as Charta del navicare del Cantino, is one of the most valuable maps of Renaissance. Due to its size, state of conservation, high artistic value and, above all, its geographic and cartographic significance, it is justly considered a masterpiece of modern times. Produced in Portugal by an anonymous cartographer, it was commissioned in the early 16th century by Alberto Cantino, a delegate of the House of Este.
The Estense Mission and the Cantino Map
At the end of the 15th century, the New World had been discovered, however, the news regarding the Admiral (Cristopher Columbus) of the Ocean Sea (Atlantic) that reached the Old Continent were shrouded in mystery and slightly altered in order to foster the most daring stories among the Estense court.
So, Ercole I, duke of Ferrara, sent an emissary to Portugal as to collect as much information as possible in the land that, along with Spain, constitutes the ultimate frontier before the mysterious and endless ocean. Once found out, these information were to be transcribed on a map and sent to the Estense court.
A Witness of the Discovery of the New World
The result of this mission was this map, unanimously regarded as the most beautiful among Renaissance geographical maps. Cantino’s map was manufactured and illuminated in 1502, becoming one of the most significant examples in the world for it features the representation of the New World, second only to Juan de la Cosa’s map.
The Cantino map is drawn on six sheets of parchment of different sizes collated together in an approximate and imprecise manner, possibly after 1870, when they were recovered. The final product is a 105 × 220 cm sheet.
The Cantino map is studded, in the various continents, with red and blue Portuguese standards indicating its control and conquests, manifesting a not-so-subtle Portuguese matrix of the planisphere. Spanish standards along with those of other states are featured too, albeit scanty.
The Transition between the Middle Ages and the Modern Age
From a geographic standpoint, the Cantino map is to be considered a prestigious cartographic document that marks a period of transition between the middle ages and the modern age. It represents the transition from old medieval ideas to more mature ones developed in the age of discovery.
It also betrays some old influences, which, keep lingering through classical sources and ancient geographic theories (Ptolemaic tradition) that, at this point, have to face modern theories developed from empirical experiences carried through by sailors and scholars.
Written in Latin and Portuguese, the Cantino map features a beautiful example of gothic script, although some cursive is present too.