Florence, Biblioteca Riccardiana, MSS Ricc. 3615 and Ricc. 3616

Nautical Atlases of Francesco Ghisolfo Facsimile Edition

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These manuscript nautical atlases, dating from the second half of the sixteenth century, are two of the masterpieces of Francesco Ghisolfo (also known as Ghisolfi), who was a pupil of master cartographer Battista Agnese. Boasting superb watercolor painting and lavish bindings, they are luxury works of art. The maps and tables were drawn in Genoa and embellished in Florence. It is believed that both atlases were decorated for members of the Medici family. MS Ricc. 3615 comprises fourteen and MS Ricc. 3616 thirteen large images.

MS Ricc. 3615 includes a Medici papal coat of arms (front pastedown), probably those of Ferdinando I de Medici, Grand-Duke of Tuscany, who held the title of cardinal from 1562 to 1587. MS Ricc. 3616 was probably commissioned by Ugolino Martelli (1519-1592) for presentation to Ferdinando's brother, Francesco I de Medici (1541-1587), Grand-Duke of Tuscany.

High Renaissance Art

Both atlases boast delicate paintings in watercolor, all thought to have been executed in Florence. The embellishment of MS Ricc. 3615 are attributed to the circle of Giorgio Vasari, the Florentine painter famous for his emulation of the painting style of Michelangelo. The allegorical figures of the seasons flanking the chart of the earth, the planets, and the zodiac (Ricc. 3615, fols. 1v-2r) certainly recall figures from Michelangelo's frescoes of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican.

Elements, Seasons, Winds, Signs of the Zodiac

The maps of the two atlases are embellished with schematic representations of mountain ranges and settlements—often featuring a city wall and a tower—on the land masses, as well as elaborate ornamental borders. One map of MS Ricc. 3616 features flags and banners.

In both atlases, watercolor paintings depict the signs of the zodiac as the named animals, objects, and figures; and the winds as blond-haired heads with puffed-out cheeks. MS Ricc. 3615 pictures the four elements and the four seasons as male and female human figures (fols. 1v-2r and 12v-13r). MS Ricc. 3616, by contrast, represents the elements directly (fols. 14v-15r).

Maps in the Tradition of Nautical Charts

Most of the maps are nautical charts, with networks of rhumb lines and place names written perpendicular to the coastlines. MS Ricc. 3616 boasts compass roses, two in the form of suns with undulating rays.

A Complementary Pair of Atlases

The contents of the atlases are similar, but not identical. Both include, for example, three charts of the Mediterranean, but the world maps of the two atlases differ in terms of their form, content, and decoration.

Bindings of Distinction

The binding of MS Ricc. 3615 is of red leather, embellished with gold tooling to create the image of illusionistic architecture in the style of classical antiquity. MS Ricc. 3616 is bound in red leather abundantly panel-stamped with gold in a design of intricate floral patterns around the arms of the Martelli family. The gold rampant griffin on a red background at the center of the arms is repeated in the arabesque borders of the manuscript's maps.

We have 1 facsimile edition of the manuscript "Nautical Atlases of Francesco Ghisolfo": Gli Atlanti Nautici di Francesco Ghisolfo facsimile edition, published by Istituto Poligrafico e Zecca dello Stato, 2008

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Manuscript book description compiled by Kevin R. Wittmann.
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Gli Atlanti Nautici di Francesco Ghisolfo

Rome: Istituto Poligrafico e Zecca dello Stato, 2008

  • Commentary (Italian) by Lazzi, Giovanna
  • Limited Edition: 750 copies
  • Full-size color reproduction of the entire original document, Nautical Atlases of Francesco Ghisolfo: the facsimile attempts to replicate the look-and-feel and physical features of the original document; pages are trimmed according to the original format; the binding might not be consistent with the current document binding.

Two facsimile volumes and accompanying commentary volume issued together in a leather box.


Ricc. 3615: red Moroccan leather embellished by plates reproducing with gold and blind embossing an architectural structure with a barrel-vault.

Ricc. 3616: red Moroccan leather with elaborate gold embossing.

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