During the Middle Ages and the Renaissance series of geographical works encompassing the whole known world, and therefore vital for travel and trade, had a wide circulation; they were known as Ptolemys, after the famous Egyptian geographer Claudius Ptolemaeus, who lived in Alexandria in the second century AD.
One of these works is to be found among the other bibliographical treasures in the Apostolic Library in the Vatican, not in the original Greek text but in a Latin translation by Jacopo Angeli da Scarpezia. The manuscript belonged to the bibliophile Pope Alexander VII, as is evidenced by his coat of arms embossed in gold on the binding.
This copy is a masterpiece, not only because of the quality of its text and the accuracy of the drawing of the maps, but also because of the materials used: the best quality parchment dyed in a variety of colours, and lavish use of gold leaf for the titles and frames, and the representation of winds using human faces, etc.
It is made up of 133 parchment folios measuring 444 x 299 mm and was written in round humanist script in the city of Florence during the 15th century. In addition to the explanatory text, it includes 30 maps: a map of the Old World, 13 maps of Europe (with the addition of three new ones: modern Spain, Northern Europe, modern Italy, more precise and elaborate than those created by Ptolemy), 4 of Africa and 12 of Asia, with maps often covering several pages.
In the 16th century, the codex was enlarged with a second map of the world which included the recently discovered continent of America.
The most outstanding of the illustrations in the manuscript is the miniature of Ptolemy within an initial letter on folio 2, depicting him with a book and a compass in his hand.