This unsigned nautical chart, commonly attributed to the cartographer Petrus Roselli, who worked in Mallorca in the second half of the fifteenth century, is an interesting example of early modern portolan charts. Although little is known about this item, its geographical accuracy and abundant information are remarkable. It combines inscriptions and pictures in a complete and accurate representation of the Mediterranean, northern Africa, and Europe, showing the geographical and cartographic knowledge available in fifteenth-century Southern Europe.
The chart includes abundant iconographic details, such as cities, flags, and banners. As is customary in the charts of the time, we can see an interesting coexistence of real and mythical references, something that makes this map an important reflection of the geographical ideas dominant in Europe prior to the discovery of the Americas.
A Visual Description of the Old World
This chart is made on a single piece of parchment, and measures 61 x 90 cm. Oriented to the north, it portrays Europe and northern Africa, from Norway to Morocco, as well as the Near East and the British Isles. Nevertheless, if we look at the rhumb lines on the bottom of the chart, as well as the representation of Africa, interestingly it seems that the chart has been cut at some point.
According to the tradition of early modern nautical charts, the coastlines of the continents, full of place names, are accurately depicted, and a series of drawings indicate important cities, Genoa being the most prominently represented.
Several flags, banners, and coats of arms are present on the chart, indicating the sovereignty of the various crowns and powers. Different mountain ranges are depicted in green, such as the Alps and Sierra Nevada in Europe, and the Atlas Mountains in Africa.
On the eastern edge of Africa, we can see a green and blue tent indicating the local ruler; this feature, as well as the head at the upper right corner of the chart representing the wind, has allowed the researchers to attribute this work stylistically to Petrus Roselli, one of the most important cartographers of the second half of the fifteenth century.
An especially interesting feature of this chart is its union between real and imaginary geographies, which is common in early modern mapmaking. In the Atlantic Ocean, traditional mythical places, like the island of Brasil, are present, and, perhaps influenced by the charts of the Anconitan Grazioso Benincasa, the imaginary Fortunate Lake, filled with abundant islands, is represented in western Ireland.
This coexistence between real and imaginary places, as well as its rich decoration, the accurate representation of the coastlines, and the abundant place names written on it, makes this item a very interesting example of fifteenth-century portolan charts.
The chart is held in the Biblioteca Estense e Universitaria in Modena under the shelfmark C.G.A.5.b.
Petrus Roselli and the Mallorcan School of Cartography
Little is known about the author and date of this chart. It is believed that it was made in the second half of the fifteenth century, and has been commonly attributed to Petrus Roselli, a cartographer who worked in Mallorca from 1447 to 1468.
The origin and nationality of Roselli are not clear; while some scholars like Konrad Kretschmer proposed an Italian origin, researchers like Charles de la Roncière proved that the name Roselli appeared as early as the 12th century associated with converted Jews in Barcelona.
Be that as it may, Roselli was one of the most prolific cartographers of fifteenth-century southern Europe. Although, as already stated, the chart reproduced in this facsimile is not signed, it presents some common features of the works of Roselli.
Thus, details like the tent in eastern Africa, the head representing the wind, the graphical depiction of Granada and the Sierra Nevada and the color and form of mountain ranges like the Atlas and the Alps are coincident with other maps made by him, something that has been used as evidence to attribute this chart to Roselli.
We have 3 facsimiles of the manuscript "Portulan C.G.A.5.b":
- Portolano C.G.A.5.b (map in tube) facsimile edition published by Il Bulino, edizioni d'arte, 2002
- Portolani (set of 3 maps in case, includes C.G.A.5.b) facsimile edition published by Il Bulino, edizioni d'arte, 2004
- Portolani (set of 3 maps in deluxe wooden case, includes C.G.A.5.b) facsimile edition published by Il Bulino, edizioni d'arte, 2004