Madrid, Biblioteca del Palacio Real, MS 1271

Portulan Atlas by Juan Riczo Facsimile Edition

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This beautiful manuscript atlas, made in Naples in 1580 by the chartmaker Joan Oliva (alias Riczo), is a very interesting example of Mediterranean nautical cartography in the sixteenth century. The atlas contains seventeen charts, covering the Mediterranean, the oceans, the Americas, Africa, and Asia, as well as a world map. It also includes two charts of the Mediterranean, made by Baldassare Maggiolo and bound together later with the rest of the atlas.

With abundant place names, accurate portrayal of coastlines, and various iconographical features, this atlas is a remarkable artifact that shows us the cartographical trends at the end of the sixteenth century in southern Europe, still with a visible influence of traditional nautical charts.

A Renaissance Image of the World

This atlas is made on parchment, and measures 29 x 43 cm. It opens with a scene representing the Crucifixion, with Christ accompanied by the Virgin and St. John. This feature is interesting, since this kind of religious image is not very common in the atlases of the time.

This scene is completed with the cartographer’s signature and date of the work: Joan Riczo alias Oliva figlio de maestro Dominico in Napole, anno 1580 (“Joan Riczo, alias Oliva, son of master Dominico in Naples, year 1580”).

The seventeen charts made by Joan Oliva portray the whole known world at the time, with accurate coastlines and abundant place names. The charts, filled with compass roses and ships sailing the seas, present beautiful frames, decorated with floral and geometric motives.

Most of the islands depicted in the charts are colored with blue, red, and gold, and in some charts, such as those of Asia and North America, the names of the continents are prominently drawn in large block letters. In Mexico, the capital is graphically depicted, and a large flag with the colors of Castile indicates its sovereignty over that part of the New World.

The atlas also contains a world map, surrounded by wind-heads and centered on a large compass rose. We can see the name “India” for North America, which is delineated in a different color than South America and the rest of the continents.

The atlas ends with two charts, signed by Baldassare Maggiolo and dated 1588, which represent the Mediterranean and were bound into the Oliva atlas sometime after its original creation.

Thus, the charts included in this atlas are as follows:
1.- Aegean Sea.
2.- Western Mediterranean and northern Africa.
3.- Central Mediterranean.
4.- World map.
5.- Eastern Mediterranean.
6.- Northern Africa, Western Europe, and British Isles.
7.- Western coast of Africa and Atlantic islands.
8.- Eastern coast of South America.
9.- Southern edge of South America and Strait of Magellan.
10.- Northern Atlantic Ocean.
11.- Southern Atlantic Ocean.
12.- Southwestern coast of Africa.
13.- Indian Ocean.
14.- Near East and the Caspian Sea.
15.- Indian Ocean.
16.- Pacific Ocean.
17.- Pacific Ocean, Caribbean Islands, Mexico, and Florida.

Charts by Baldassare Maggiolo:
18.- Mediterranean, Northern Africa, and Southern Europe.
19.- Eastern Mediterranean.

This interesting atlas is housed in the Royal Palace Library in Madrid under the shelfmark MS 1271.

Joan Riczo Oliva, Member of a Dynasty of Mapmakers

This atlas is the first known work by Joan Riczo Oliva. Son of Domingo Olives, grandson of Jaume Olives and great-grandson of Bartomeu Olives, he was a part of one of the most renowned families of cartographers at the time.

Nevertheless, little is known about his life. It is believed that he began to work in his father’s workshop in Naples, where he produced at least five signed nautical charts, and continued working after moving to Messina in 1590. The atlas described here was part of the library of the Count of Gondomar, before being donated to the Royal Palace in Madrid.

We have 1 facsimile edition of the manuscript "Portulan Atlas by Juan Riczo": Atlas de Oliva o Atlas Portulano J. Riczo facsimile edition, published by Testimonio Compañía Editorial, 1987

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Manuscript book description compiled by Kevin R. Wittmann.
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Atlas de Oliva o Atlas Portulano J. Riczo

Madrid: Testimonio Compañía Editorial, 1987

  • Commentary (French, Spanish)
  • Limited Edition: 980 copies
  • Full-size color reproduction of the entire original document, Portulan Atlas by Juan Riczo: 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.

Binding

In Moorish style, leather, cloves studded and gold plated.

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