Sitting this week in the glorious reading room of the map division of the New York Public Library, I was fortunate to see and peruse a major new work in map history:
Bifolco, Stefano, and Fabrizio Ronca, eds. 2018. Cartografia e topografia Italiana del XVI secolo: Catalogo ragionato delle opere a stampa. 3 vols. Rome: Edizioni Antiquarius.
And these are large volumes, heavily illustrated. And expensive. The editors’ preface indicates how this huge work provides a comprehensive mass of data for the study of commercial maps and views in sixteenth-century Italy.
But I quickly discovered a flaw, one that highlights an all-too-common error by map historians.
Bifolco and Ronca catalog the huge number of separately published maps produced in Rome and Venice. These are the kinds of maps that would, starting in the later 1560s, be assembled into composite atlases (which George H. Beans infelicitously called “Italian Assembled to Order” [IATO] atlases). This include maps such as this:
Introductory chapters also include descriptions and many large thumbnails of the maps published in early books of maps: editions of Ptolemy’s Geography and the printed isolarii (island books).
But what is missing are the maps published only within books. For example, Giacomo Gastaldi provided woodblock maps of Africa, India, and East Asia to the second edition (1554) of the first volume of Giovanni Battista Ramusio’s three-volume Navigationi e viaggi. When the blocks perished in a 1557 fire, Ramusio’s editor added three copper-plate engravings to the third edition of 1563. (I will reproduce the 1563 Africa map in Mapping, History, Theory.) None of these maps, either the 1554 or 1563 set, are discussed in any detail in the new catalogue. The catalogue does include the newly engraved copies of the three maps that Fernando Bertelli published in 1565; the entries for these do mention the Gastaldi maps from which Bertelli derived his work (maps 84, 85, and 94).
In other words, a potentially major component of the map trade in Renaissance Italy has been omitted from the catalogue. I have no idea how many books with maps in them were published in this era in Rome and Venice—for all I know, it might just be Ramusio’s collection of voyages. But we certainly cannot use this catalogue as the basis for a comprehensive study of the early Italian map trade until this lacuna is filled.
(I should also note that the editors did not provide any information about the contents, and sequence, of the maps included in the surviving composite atlases listed in the appendix; nor is it immediately obvious from the census of each map which ones survive as separates, as having been extracted from composite atlases, or within still extant composite atlases.)
(I dedicate this post to Jordana Dym and Carla Lois, who are working to correct this all-to-common failure by map historians by their ongoing project to study maps in books!)