Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Largest Early Map of the World [Monte's 10 ft. Planisphere of 1587]

We in the early 21st century can call up detailed maps of almost any place on Earth with little more effort than typing its name. Most of us can dimly recall a time when it wasn't quite so easy, but imagine trying to satisfy your geographical curiosity in not just decades but centuries past. For the 16th-century Milanese gentleman scholar Urbano Monte, figuring out what the whole world looked like turned into an enormous project, in terms of both effort and sheer size. In 1587, he created his "planisphere" map as a 60-page manuscript, and only now have researchers assembled it into a single piece, ten feet square, the largest known early map of the world.

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:

The 10 Foot Diameter Planisphere Digitally Assembled from Monte's 60 Sheet Gores with Additional Sheets for the Corners

You can see/download Monte's planisphere in detail at the David Rumsey Map Collection, both as a collection of individual pages and as a fully assembled world map. There you can also read, in PDF form, cartographic historian Dr. Katherine Parker's "A Mind at Work: Urbano Monte's 60-Sheet Manuscript World Map." And to bring this marvel of 16th-century cartography around to a connection with a marvel of 21st-century cartography, they've also taken Monte's planisphere and made it into a three-dimensional model in Google Earth, a mapping tool that Monte could scarcely have imagined — even though, as a close look at his work reveals, he certainly didn't lack imagination.

Ursula K. Le Guin

“For a word to be spoken, there must be silence. Before, and after.”