This atlas is an enthralling example of the work of the Portuguese cartographer Diogo Homem (1521-1576), member of one of the most important families of cartographers of the sixteenth century. Not much is known about the atlas; according to the date indicated by the cosmographic calendar it contains, it is believed that it was made around 1559, but no information about its patron is available. The work shows a remarkable graphic depiction of the Mediterranean, as well as a beautiful cosmographic calendar. The maps are lavishly decorated with banners, flags, and coats of arms. The names of the cardinal directions, as well as of the different countries and regions, are prominently drawn.
The atlas is one of the treasures of sixteenth-century Portuguese cartography, and is held in the Museo Naval in Madrid. Its rich decoration and accurate representation make this work an outstanding example of early modern cartography.
A Luxury View of the Mediterranean
The atlas is formed by eight leaves, seven of which contain charts of the Mediterranean on double pages, and the last one a double-paged cosmographic calendar. It is made on parchment, and measures 46,5 x 30 cm.
The charts follow the tradition of southern European nautical charts, with a very accurate representation of the coasts and abundant coastal place-names. One of the most remarkable features of this atlas is its beautiful decoration. Diogo Homem fills the blank spaces with abundant iconographic references, such as the coats of arms and flags of the countries.
Thus, we can see the coat of arms of Castille and Aragon in Spain, the flag of Portugal in a prominently drawn Lisbon, a coat of arms with three fleurs-de-lis in France, and the depiction of the Vatican coat of arms in Italy.
Several elaborate compass roses are included in the charts, and important cities like Lisbon and Genoa are prominently depicted. The blank spaces are also filled with huge letters indicating the cardinal points and the name of some countries and regions, like Barbaria in Northern Africa and Italy.
The decoration includes also banners with the names of different countries and the graphic depiction of mountains, rivers, and lakes in blue, red, and gold.
Diogo Homem and his Turbulent Life
Although he was a part of one of the most renowned families of cartographers of the first half of the sixteenth century, not much is known about the life of Diogo Homem. Son of the well-known cartographer Lopo Homem, he took up his father’s craft and started to work in Lisbon. Nevertheless, he had to be exiled to Morocco in 1544 after being involved in a murder.
Afterwards, he escaped to England, obtaining a royal pardon in 1547. From 1568 to 1576 he worked in Venice, and became a prestigious cartographer given the quality and accuracy of its works. This atlas, held in the Museo Naval in Madrid under the shelfmark PM-2, is a perfect example of that accuracy.