Antiquarian Auctions

Auction #59 begins on
25 May 2017 16:30 GMT

Giacomo Gastaldi

[Africa] Prima Tavola

Published: Thomaso Giuntti, Venice, 1563

Reserve: $2,000


Estimate: $2250-3000

Bidding opens: 25 May 16:30 GMT

Bidding closes: 1 Jun 16:30 GMT

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This is a famous 'upside down' map of Africa that is > 450 years old. 

Giobattista Ramusio published this "upside down" map in volume 1 of the three volume Delle Navigationi et Viaggi.  The book included the travel accounts of Marco Polo and Magellan. 

  This example of the map was printed from a single copperplate, probably engraved by the famous Giacomo Gastaldi.  The vertical central narrow panel was left unprinted to allow for stitching into the book.  The copperplate map appeared for the first time in 1563, in the 3rd edition of Delle Navigationi published by Thomaso Giuntti, in whose print shop the original woodcut was destroyed in 1557, during a fire (woodcut published in 1554).   The copperplate version of the map was published again in 1588, 1606 and 1613.

  The headline Prima Tavola (First Map) refers to the map being the first in volume I on Africa in Delle Navigationi et Viaggi. The prime meridian is through the Canary Islands named after Insula Canaria, Island of the Dogs - large, fierce dogs were endemic to the island; or possibly the islands were named after a species of seal that inhabited the area and which now are locally extinct. 

  This is a milestone map of Africa:

  • It is the first printed map of Africa correctly to locate and show all of Madagascar, S. Lorenzo Isola.  The name Isola de S. Lorenzo was given by Diogo Dias, the Portuguese navigator who first landed there in 1500 on the feast day of St. Lawrence. 
  • The map is the first to show evidence of Portuguese settlement in West Africa: Lamina (El Mina), the Portuguese fort in present day Ghana – see below.
  • The map is the first to identify the chief sea port of the ancient Kingdom of Monomatapa.  This port is Cefala, now Nova Sofala in present day Mozambique.  Vasco da Gama's companion, Thomé Lopes, identified Sofala with the dynasty of the queen of Sheba, ruler of the Biblical Ophir, Great Zimbabwe, which was the capital of Monomatapa. This large port at the mouth of the Sofala River was reputed to be able to accommodate 100 ships, but it has silted up due the deposit of topsoil after significant upstream deforestation.  The Portuguese captured the town in 1505; all that remains of the former town are ruins – see in the image below.   

Giovanni Battista Ramusio was a senior official of the Venetian Republic who was renowned for his collection of reports on voyages.  He obtained geographical information for his map from the Portuguese discoverer, Montalbondo.  His Delle Navigationi et Viaggi was much admired, translated and imitated, notably by Richard Hakluyt in England.    Ramusio also obtained geographical information from an Arab geographer:

 Hasan ibn Muhammed al-Wazzan al-Fasi.   He was better known to Europeans as Leo Africanus, who published a similar upside down map, in Historiale description de l’Afrique.  The association with Leo Africanus may explain why the map is “upside down”.  The story goes that when Muslims (such as Leo Africanus) arise they face the rising sun in the east; the right hand is dominant and has other significance in the Arab world.  So, South, on the right of East, is at the top - a romantic and possibly correct explanation.  The convention of placing of  North on top is attributed to Claudius Ptolemy, a Roman citizen, probably Egyptian by birth, who lived during the 1st century AD.

 served the Venetian Republic as a cartographer and worked with a number of publishers; he was an expert with the rapidly evolving copperplate technology.  His edition of Ptolemy's Geography was very highly regarded.  His 1564 wall map of Africa is a milestone in the history of cartography because it represented a significant departure from the Münster tradition.  His famous Geographia was the definitive book with maps of the “ancient world”.     This is a wonderful, landmark 'upside-down' map of Africa. The map is more than 450 years old and in fine condition. It will enhance any collection of maps.

Reference: Betz Mapping of Africa: #7; Norwich's Maps of Africa: #6

  • Overall Condition: Fine
  • Size: 39.0xm x 25.7cm

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