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Bernardo Sylvanus: [Untitled Cordiform World Map]

Map: WLD4428
Cartographer: Bernardo Sylvanus
Title: [Untitled Cordiform World Map]
Date: 1511
Published: Venice
Width: 22 inches / 56 cm
Height: 16 inches / 41 cm
Map ref: WLD4428
Relatively little is known about Bernard Sylvanus. He was born in Eboli in 1465 and his first recorded work was in 1490, when he produced a manuscript version of the “Geographia”, based on Ptolemy in Naples. The maps included in this edition were based on those from the editions published in Rome in either 1478 or 1490.

In 1511, after moving to Venice, he published a new edition of the Geographia which became his most famous work and which included this untitled cordiform map. Its novel projection was an early attempt to portray a sphere on a two dimensional piece of paper. It is a historical, geographical and typographical document of paramount importance.

It is the first printed map in two colours. It is the first map to use this cordiform (heart shaped) projection. It is the first commercially available printed map to show Japan as an island. It is the second commercially available printed map to show the New World. It is one of the earliest commercially available printed maps to show the complete continent of Africa.

Geographically, the map has been compiled from multiple sources. Among these are the explorations of the Portuguese Joao Fernandez Lavrador and the Corte de Real brothers, who were responsible for the discovery of the “terra laboratorus” and the “regalis domus”, in 1498 and c.1501 respectively; both of these are marked on the map and believed to be among the first depictions of north eastern America.

Unlike his predecessors Contarini and Ruysch, Sylvanus does not commit himself to actually joining North America and Asia but rather leaves the question open ended. His eastern Asian coast fades out on the edge of the map while the “regalis domus” is a small coastal outline without an explanation as to its nature. The accompanying “terran laboratorus” or modern Labrador, is depicted as an island in the Atlantic. However, Sylvanus’s use of the name “Gryvenlant” or Greenland in Asia, just above “Catai” suggesting that he was almost convinced that Greenland and the new discoveries were part of the eastern Asian coast.

The discovery of the New World is based on both Contarini and Ruysch’s map and interpreted as the “Terra Santa Crucis” corresponding to the northern coast of South America with the two islands of Cuba and Hispaniola due north.

Africa is remarkably accurate for its time, based on decades of exploration pursued by Portuguese mariners at the behest of Henry the Navigator and his son Joao; geographically, the map becomes more problematic in the Indian Ocean where it follows orthodox Ptolemaic geography and inverts the size of Taprobana or modern Sri Lanka and the Indian sub-continent. The map improves in the Far East with a better depiction of early renditions of the coast of China, the Malay Peninsula and the Spice Islands, most of which have been based on the writings of Marco Polo.

Finally, a note must be made about the use of the two colours on the map. It is believed that Sylvanus was attempting to update Ptolemaic geography and reconcile it with the vast influx of new information being disseminated in Europe during this early part of the Age of Discovery, with the names in red being new and often more detailed modern additions to the more traditional Ptolemaic labels.

Aesthetically, the map follows traditional Ptolemaic maps, with depictions of several human heads floating on clouds representing the winds blowing onto the world.

Framed. [Shirley 32] [WLD4428]