Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Largest Early World Map - Monte's 10 ft. Planisphere of 1587

An extraordinary 60 sheet manuscript world map made in 1587 by Urbano Monte has been added to the David Rumsey Map Collection at Stanford University. At 10 foot square, this map or planisphere is the largest known early map of the world. It was hand drawn by Monte in Milan, Italy, and only one other manuscript copy exists. The digitally joined 60 sheet map image below is the first time the map Monte made has been seen as one unified map - as Monte intended - in the 430 years since it was created. See all the individual sheets here.
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. 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. This was never done, but now we can do it virtually - Monte's 60 sheet world map digitally assembled into a 10 foot planisphere:

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