Before the modern era of mass literacy and public instruction, education was a private and socially limited endeavor. While many geography books and atlases were printed for elite readers, initial education and further learning was conducted in hand-drawn books and maps.

This remarkable French manuscript was written in about 1600. The anonymous author compiled this unique work ~ quite unlike printed works of the time ~ from several types of geographical writing. The descriptions of islands reflect the isolario, a book describing the islands of the Mediterranean and the rest of the world. The duplication of maps of parts of the Old World indicates the continued importance of Renaissance editions of Claudius Ptolemy’s Geographia, which paired maps derived from second-century data with maps based on recently acquired information. The book begins with a rare explanation of the different map projections that Renaissance scholars had developed for world maps.

On Jesuit education and mapping, see François de Dainville, La géographie des humanistes (Paris: Beauchesne et ses fils, 1940) and L’éducation des Jésuites (XVIe–XVIIIe siècles) (Paris: Éditions de Minuit, 1978). On Renaissance geography generally, see David Woodward, ed., Cartography in the European Renaissance, Vol. 3 of The History of Cartography (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007).

26. French manuscript book of geography (ca. 1600)

84-page manuscript book, 31.5cm high

Osher Collection


The anonymous owner of this particular copy of this small geographical book — a reduced-format epitome, first published in Antwerp in 1577, of Abraham Ortelius’s Theatrum orbis terrarum (1570) — augmented the work’s one map of the Americas (shown here among the facsimiles) by copying an alternative image of the Americas on a rear leaf.

This manuscript map was loosely copied from Gerard de Jode’s now rare world map, Universalis (Antwerp, 1555), which de Jode had in turn derived from Giacomo Gastaldi’s Universale (Venice, 1546). In copying the map, the author also reoriented it, so that North is to the left.

The book’s binding is too tight to permit display of the actual map, so it is reproduced here as an enlarged facsimile. The whole book can be examined online.

The source map was identified by (1) the manuscript’s content, and especially the southwest/northeast axis of the Amazon River, which had been superseded in world and regional maps by 1570, and (2) the notation at lower right: “Autore venetorum <unclear> cosmographo,” which referred to Gastaldi, who held the title of cosmographer to the republic of Venice. While Gastaldi is not known to have made a map just of the Americas, he did make world maps. Later versions of his 1546 map, edited by Paolo Forlani and published in 1562 [OML copy] and 1565 [OML copy], were similar to the manuscript but had too much content; by contrast, Gastaldi’s own map (available, in two variants, at the John Carter Brown Library [proof] and Harvard University) had too little content; also, all of these maps were in Italian (e.g., “Oceano occidentale”). But De Jode’s 1555 derivative (available at the Bibliothèque nationale de France) had just the right level of detail and Latin names (e.g., “Oceanus occidentalis”).

For more information, see: Robert W. Karrow, Mapmakers of the Sixteenth Century and Their Maps: Bio-Bibliographies of the Cartographers of Abraham Ortelius, 1570 (Chicago: Speculum Orbis Press for The Newberry Library, 1993), 218–19, and Rodney W. Shirley, The Mapping of the World: Early Printed World Maps, 1472–1700, 2nd ed. (Riverside, Conn.: Early World Press, 2001), nos. 85, 100, 106, 112, 115, and 117. The printed map of the Americas in Heyns’ epitome is described by Philip D. Burden, The Mapping of North America: A List of Printed Maps, 1511–1670 (Rickmansworth, Herts.: Raleigh Publications, 1996), no. 48. Burden’s work also permitted the conclusion that the manuscript map was not derived from another map just of the Americas.

27. “Le Nouveau Monde”

In Peeter Heyns, Le Miroir du monde (Antwerp: Christoph Plantin for Philippe Galle, 1579), on verso of last leaf

Manuscript, 10cm x 11.5cm (paper)

Smith Collection