Urbano Monte’s early world map (1587)

#historical_maps #projections

15 April 2018


Urbano Monte’s map is one of the earliest, and certainly one of the most extraordinary, planispheres in history. Hand-drawn in 1587, it forms an Atlas of 60 sheets, of which only two manuscript copies exist in the world.

The David Rumsey Map Collection at Stanford University has recently digitized this Atlas, hand-drawn in 1587 by Urbano Monte, in Milan. Like 85,000 other documents in this historical collection, this map is now available on its website in the form of very high quality files (definition and colors).

You can discover it below, by choosing in the menu the projection that suits you, and, with the mouse, the rotation angle.


As the comment on the site indicates:

Monte’s map reminds us of why historical maps are so important as primary resources: the north polar azimuthal projection of his planisphere uses the advanced scientific ideas of his time; the artistry in drawing and decorating the map embodies design at the highest level; and the view of the world then gives us a deep historical resource with the listing of places, the shape of spaces, and the commentary interwoven into the map. Science, art, and history all in one document.”

By digitally stitching the pages of this Atlas, which form as many fragments, Urbano Monte’s map can finally be seen as a single large image, as its author had explicitly conceived it, 431 years ago.

Until now, Monte’s manuscript map was seen as a series of 60 individual sheets. The only assembled version is the small single page key sheet of the series. Now that we have joined all 60 sheets digitally (accomplished with great skill by Brandon Rumsey), we can appreciate in a new way the extraordinary accomplishment that Monte made. The assembled map, just over 10 feet in diameter, is one of the largest—if not the largest—world maps made in the 16th century. The degree of detail and decoration is stunning and the entire production is surely unique in the history of cartographic representation.”


Monte made his map to serve not only as a geographical tool but also to show climate, customs, length of day, distances within regions - in other words, to create a universal scientific planisphere. In his dedication on Tavola XL he specifies how to arrange the sheets of the planisphere and makes it explicit that the whole map was to be stuck on a wooden panel 5 and a half brachia square (about ten feet) so that it could be revolved around a central pivot or pin through the north pole.”

(The braccio is an Italian unit of measurement, which varied from one city to another propre; in Milan it was equivalent to 59,5 cm: the map has a diameter of 3,30 m.)

To observe the map in all its details, visit David Rumsey’s blog: “Largest Early World Map”.

Finally, a very interesting catalogue written by historian Katherine Parker accompanies the map and enters in detail the historical context of its creation.

↬ Philippe Rivière.

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