This Ptolemaic chart of Italy is one of the masterpieces of the Flemish cartographer Gerard Kremer (1512-1594), better known as Gerard Mercator. An outstanding example of Renaissance cartography, it is a part of his edition of Ptolemy’s Geography, published in 1578. It shows the usual features of Renaissance cartography, both decorative and scriptural, and the geographic details present a remarkable accuracy.
This chart of Italy is the sixth map of Europe of the first Mercator edition of Ptolemy’s Geography; the maps in this edition are generally regarded as the most beautifully executed in any printed edition of the work. It is also a superb example of maps as a union of art and science.
A Masterful Example of Renaissance Cartography
The chart is one of the most interesting maps of Italy made in the late sixteenth-century. We can see the usual features of Mercator’s works, like the accuracy of topographical representation and the use of italic script, making this map a unique case in comparison with other editions of Ptolemy’s Geography published before.
The sea, hand-colored in an intense blue, is filled not only by the Italian islands, but also by a sea monster (typical in Renaissance cartography) and a large cartouche, lavishly framed by plants and fruit motifs, as well as by two satyrs at the top.
The topographical accuracy of Italy is remarkable; the Apennine Mountains are clearly marked, traversing all the country from North to South, and the cities and towns are marked in red color.
Some years later, these features would be seen in the map of Italy in Mercator’s well-known Atlas (1595), published by his son Rumold after Gerard’s death in 1594.
A New Script for Maps
This map is also interesting for its elegant cursiva script, a common feature of maps by Mercator; in fact, he was the first cartographer to use that script in the maps, and he even published a treatise about it in 1540. Thus, the script in the Ptolemaic Chart of Italy is a very remarkable example of Mercator’s art.
Mercator’s 1578 Geographia. The Story of a Difficult Publication
In the mid-sixteenth century, the Flemish polymath Gerard Mercator was one of the most important cartographers and mathematicians in Europe. He was the cosmographer for Duke Wilhelm of Cleve, and he had an excellent reputation in the scientific circle of Central Europe.
He developed a revolutionary map projection, based on mathematical calculations and shown in his 1569 world map, but his larger goal was to publish a whole, complex, and in-depth treatise about world geography. For several reasons, he had to postpone the final publication of his work, and he died in 1594 without seeing it published; his son Rumold would publish the work in 1595, under the title Atlas sive Cosmographicae meditationes de fabrica mundi et fabricati figura.
Nevertheless, Mercator was able to publish a new edition of Ptolemy’s Geography, adding new maps and using not only Ptolemy as a source, but also other ancient authors. But the edition of this work was not an easy one to produce. In a letter sent in 1577 to the Secretary of to the Duke of Jülich, Mercator expressed his concern about the delay of the publication of the Geography, which had to be postponed for some reason that is not completely clear. In fact, in that letter, Mercator asked the Duke for the license to publish the work, and told him that he was sending him a map of Europe, mounted on cloth and colored, which is probably the map shown here.
Finally, in 1578 Mercator’s edition of Ptolemy’s Geography was published, and became one of the most important cartographic works of sixteenth-century Europe, of which the chart of Italy is an outstanding example.
We have 1 facsimile edition of the manuscript "Italy's Ptolemaic Chart": Carta Tolemaica dell'Italia di Gerardo Mercatore facsimile edition, published by Priuli & Verlucca, editori, 2004Request Info / Price