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Giovanni Camocio: [Lafreri Map of Africa]

Map: AFR5735
Cartographer: Giovanni Camocio
Title: [Lafreri Map of Africa]
Date: 1566
Published: Venice
Width: 27 inches / 69 cm
Height: 19 inches / 49 cm
Map ref: AFR5735
As with many “Lafreri” maps, this spectacular two sheet map of Africa was a collaborative effort. There are two names of note on the cartouche on the lower left. The first is that of Giovanni Camocio, who is advertising this map for sale at his shop or studio in Venice at the Sign of the Pyramid. The other is Paolo Forlani of Verona. The division of labour in its production is unclear. Forlani was known as a superlative engraver first and foremost, although he was also a compiler and publisher. Camocio was known as a major map publisher and retailer with his “Signum Pyramidis” present on multiple Italian maps of this period. It is generally believed that Forlani was certainly responsible for engraving the map and probably compiling the information, and he may have also published it; or Camocio may have been the publisher and may have helped Forlani in gaining access to different sources; he was certainly responsible for the retail sales. A final intriguing name on the map is the dedicatee on the cartouche, Nicolaus Stopius, a manager at the important and influential Venetian publishing house of Daniel Bomberg. It is not known why Stopius was included on the map.

The main source for this map was Giacomo Gastaldi’s series of maps of Africa, beginning with his miniature map of the continent of 1548, followed by his enormous mural of the continent commissioned by the Council of Ten to adorn the Doge’s Palace in Venice, painted in 1549. He then issued a further eight sheet wall map of the continent in 1564, a project on which Forlani worked. Forlani also issued an earlier two sheet map of Africa, again possibly published by Camocio, in 1562, mainly based on the mural map. It is this piece which bears the closest resemblance to our example.

Sixteenth century Venice was one of the most cosmopolitan and busiest maritime and terrestrial trading hubs in the world, leading to an enormous influx of news and reports from all parts of Europe. This explains the diversity of sources available for maps of even an area as exotic as 16th century Africa. Gastaldi and his contemporaries would have had access to accounts of the voyages of the great Portuguese explorers such as Diogo Cao, who discovered the mouth of the Congo, Bartolomeo Diaz the first recorded European to sail around the Cape of Good Hope and Vasco de Gama, who was the first to reach India. However, the Portuguese were not the only sources; one of the major authorities on the continent was the captured Moor, al-Hasan ibn Muhammad al-Wazzan al-Fasi, who was baptized and became known as Leo Africanus; another were the “Delle Navigationi et Viaggi”, a compendium of accounts of voyages from the Age of Discovery published by Giovanni Battista Ramusio, Secretary to the Council of Ten, the ruling body of Venice.

This available diversity resulted in a superb rendition of the continent for the time. Unfortunately, it did suffer some issues; amongst them was the persistent theory that the source of the Nile was a pair of large lakes in central southern Africa. This was first proposed in the classical period by Claudius Ptolemy. Gastaldi develops this idea and shows both the Congo and the Zambesi River sourcing from the same lake, splitting the continent into four separate islands.

Aesthetically, the map is highly attractive with the Atlantic and Indian Oceans full of sea monsters and ships. More incongruous is the image of Noah’s Ark near the Horn of Africa. There is no explanation for the inclusion of this very particular image but it may be a clue for the reason of the inclusion of Stopius’s name on the cartouche; the House of Bomberg were the largest publishers of Hebrew Bibles in Venice and the story of Noah’s Ark is one of the most famous passages within the Torah, which is the core of this work.

Our example is the 1566 edition of this map.

[BETZ 8.2] [AFR5735]