DESCRIPTION: One of the most interesting and problematical maps of the Middle Ages is the Portolano Laurenziano Gaddiano currently in the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana in Florence, Italy.
Among the most startling features is its depiction of the recognizable shape of the continent of Africa with remarkable prescience. Nearly a century before the Portuguese age of discovery, the Medici Atlas draws the bend of the Gulf of Guinea and shows that Africa has a southern end, i.e.
Now it is well known that the province of the normal portolan chart of the late 14th and early 15th centuries did not extend farther south than Sierra Leone (= Montes Lunae), a region about which the merchants of Genoa and other Mediterranean seaports were beginning to hear as a result of their growing trade with the Sudan. Assuming then that the Laurentian a€?worlda€? map was originally a portolan chart, a resume of the six regional charts that follow in the Atlas, how can we regard the twin African outlines?
It is largely on the ground of these and other characteristics common to the two maps that Wiesera€™s arguments are based.
Now both the Dulcerto and Pizzigani portolan charts are of the normal type and with one or two exceptions (e. The first of these arguments assumes, quite arbitrarily, that the de Virga map is the parent map, but it is equally permissible to assume that the Medicean Atlas is the parent map, so that this is really no argument. South of Cape Bojador to the latitude of Sierra Leone the coast is depicted as a rhythmic succession of headlands and bays - an obvious confession of ignorance. In the heart of the Sahara, there is a mountain complex separating the Nile from what presumably the Nile of the Negroes. We see from these illustrations that the world map shares the limitations and defects of all 14th century maps.
The last of Wiesera€™s arguments hinges on the association of Ptolemya€™s Geographia in the production of the Medicean Atlas, and in particular, upon the parentage by the gulf which is portrayed in the ink outline. The river systems of the Sahara conform to the views commonly expressed in medieval geographies, while those of the southern portion of the continent recall the traditional ideas held concerning the Terrestrial Paradise.
It would appear, therefore, that the problems raised by Wiesera€™s thesis are greater than those that it solves. To summarize, there would appear to be good reason for retaining 1351 as the approximate date of the original drawing and for regarding the African outlines as the work of later editors: the first dating possibly from the period of the de Virga world map and the second from the period of Portuguese activity along the west African coasts. This world map forms part of an atlas, commonly called the Medicean Atlas, consisting of eight sheets. Most of the maps that I have chosen in these monographs were primarily selected because of their personal aesthetic appeal.
First, all details, physical features, pictorial embellishments and legends, stop short of the latitude of the Mos Lune. Is it possible, therefore, that the draughtsman of the Laurentian chart only drew the part of Africa north of the latitude of Sierra Leone and that the southern portion of the continent was drawn subsequently? He believes that there are several points of evidence for a later appearance of the Atlas, especially its manifold and often close correspondence with the Catalan Atlas of 1375 (#235). First the verbal similarity between the text of the Lunar Calendar in the Medicean Atlas and the de Virga map.
The second, namely that the configuration of the southern part of Africa warrants the attribution of a later date, is seen to be poorly grounded when we dismiss, as Wieser does and no doubt rightly, the colored version as a subsequent emendation, for where does the ink outline provide such evidence?
The isle of Meroe is placed in close proximity to the headwaters that are supplemented by another river coming down from the northeast extremity of the Atlas range. So it can only be the east coast that furnishes evidence of a late date and here Wieser confesses that the southerly trend may be due to the influence of the narratives of Polo and Odoric. Now if this is a€?none other than the Sinus Hespericus by Ptolemya€? we should expect to find the map bearing other indications of Ptolemaic influence, but such indications are absent. In the writera€™s opinion the unknown author of the outline map and Albertin de Virga had in mind the gulf of which Western Europe was then beginning to hear a€“ the Gulf of Gold.


The first sheet, an astronomical chart, is of value mainly in the dating of the overall work.
The second sheet of the atlas, the world map, is the one that has attracted most attention. While the remarkable shape of Africa has given rise to speculative theories about ancient sailing and secret voyages, the explanation could be more mundane. Second, there is a palpable difference of brushwork and of color between the areas to the north and south of this latitude. A comparison of the European and Asiatic portions of the map with the African suggests that such an explanation is at all events feasible. We can be sure that the Genoese merchants of the latter half of the 14th century were deeply interested in the question of Africa nondum cognita, if only because the Levantine land routes to the East were then occupied by the Turks. Among other common features he points out is the delineation of the Caspian Sea, which here and they are nearly identical. Whether or not the Nile of the Negroes was intended, as commonly believed, to connect by some subterranean course with the Egyptian Nile cannot be derived from the map.
Prototypes of this may be seen in the Carignano, Sanudo and Vesconte maps, none of which, incidentally, can claim Ptolemaic parentage.
If the original date of 1351 is true, that would make it the first European extant map to incorporate the travel reports of Marco Polo and Ibn Batuta.
At one extreme comes the view of Alexander von Humboldt that this work, in conjunction with others, offers clear proof of a medieval acquaintance with the southern part of Africa. The probable source of the a€?Guinea benda€? is the legend of the Sinus Aethiopicus, the rumor of a gulf that lay somewhere south of Cape Bojador that was said to penetrate deeply into the African continent. In Europe the draughtsman contented himself with depicting the region lying to the south of the latitude of central Sweden, that is the region known tolerably well to the medieval geographer. This date, Wieser says, rests solely on the fact that the year 1351 is referred to in the explanatory rubrics of the associated Lunar Calendar. This concordance he deems to be all the more significant because the form of the Caspian Sea on the Dulcerto chart of 1339 and on the Pizzigani chart of 1367 is not entirely closed. The Caspian to most of the cartographers of this period was not a region on which first hand knowledge was generally available for evidence we have only to look at the maps of the 14th and 15th centuries and, therefore, it may easily be that Dulcerto and Pizzigani preferred not to commit themselves and to leave the eastern and northern portions unmapped. It appears to have its source both in the Atlas Mountains near the region described Hic sunt omines Magni Xll Pedes and in the Mos Lune [The Fouta Djallon Mountains?]. On this view there is no necessity to postulate a 15th century origin for the Medicean Atlas for there is ample evidence of medieval acquaintance with the African east coast as far as Sofala. It shows Asia up to India, marking places like the Delhi Sultanate and others with reasonable accuracy. This gulf is described in the fantastical travelogue of the Libro del Conoscimiento (possibly as early as 1350) and finds itself again in the 1459 Fra Mauro map (#249), well before it was discovered by Portuguese explorers. It is difficult, from mere inspection, to decide which rendering is prior in point of execution. The other may have been drawn by a cartographer at the Portuguese court in the following century after Don Pedro the King of Portugala€™s eldest son had returned from his grand tour of Europe. As the drawing of the Caspian basin in the Atlas is better documented and more accurate he concludes that the date of the Medicean Atlas cannot be placed earlier than the last quarter of the 14th century.
In passing it can be pointed out that as early as 1321 Marino Sanudo represents the Caspian as a closed sea, showing that, because Pizzigani left it open, there is no reason to suppose that the Laurentian map must be later than 1367.
Third, the fact that a€?the world map of Albertin de Virga and the Medicean Atlas both testify to the influence of the Ptolemaic theory on the medieval conception of geography.
The coast is portrayed with even comparative accuracy only as far as Cape Non and the prominence given to that headland demonstrates quite clearly that close acquaintance with the coast ended at that point.


The Mons Attalas [Atlas Mountains] have a greatly exaggerated length and reach almost to Egypt. The notion that the West African coast did not extend straight south but took a sharp eastward bend, could be a hazy reference to the actual Gulf of Guinea. In Asia there is a north-south break (masked, as in the case of Africa, by a color wash) occurring approximately in the longitude of the Indus delta, that is, somewhat to the east of the Caspian Sea, which constituted the eastern frontier of the normal portolan chart. 1351 acceptable, but the fact that the reference to that year is in the past tense and also the fact that the de Virga Calendar starts at the year 1301 suggest that Lunar Calendars started from the first year of a century or half-century and that they do not necessarily bear a definite relation with the date of the map.
Only a few years before the construction of de Virgaa€™s map the geographical work of the great Alexandrine had been rendered accessible to scholars of the West by the Latin translation of Jacobus Angelus finished in 1409.a€? Because of this Wieser concludes that the Medicean Atlas cannot be dated earlier than de Virgaa€™s world map. An unnamed and imaginary river having its source in septem montium Pegio et Civitas Tochorum is made to debouch into the Atlantic on the south side of the cape. On their Saharan front they shelter at least five lakes of considerable size, each being the headwaters of a trans-Saharan river. This river is entirely independent of a third Saharan river-unnamed and taking its source in the Mos Aeris (a westward extension of the Mos Lune).
Furthermore the de Virga map, which Wieser considers to be the parent map, places the Kingdom of Organa on the far side of the gulf near the India of Pres.
Nothing is known of the authorship or the raison da€™etre of the work and, beyond the fact that it is of Ligurian provenance, nothing is known of its origin.
The historian Peter Russell notes that the Portuguese Prince Henry the Navigator was entranced by the legend of the Sinus Aethiopicus, as it held out the prospect of a direct sea route around West Africa to the Christian kingdom of Prester Johna€™s Ethiopian Empire, avoiding the complications of travelling through the Muslim lands of Egypt to reach it. In this the Medicean Atlas recalls the Pizzigani Chart of 1367 alone of all mid- and late 14th century maps, suggesting that the date is early rather than late. Joanes - a tacit acknowledgment that that region was not intended to represent terra incognita of Ptolemy. The author of the Medici-Laurentian atlas is known that he comes from the Liguria region of Italy (probably Genoese), and might have composed it for a Florentine owner.
In the Medici Atlas, the depth of the penetration of the Sinus indeed almost reaches Ethiopia.
Among the decipherable words in this hand the following are significant: Mangi, Cipangala(?), Kinsai and Gugut(?). On this theory it is possible that the colored and more plausible rendering dates from the time when the true conformation of the African coast was being disclosed. Curiously enough the only inscription relating to the traffic of the region is unassociated with any of these rivers, being situated near the western extremity of the continent in Provincia Ganuya.
The atlas is explicitly dated 1351 (as per its astronomical calendar), but scholars believed it was more likely composed around 1370, possibly from earlier material, and probably amended further later, with emendations as late as 1425-50.
Secondly there are two versions of the southeastern extremity of the continent, one in color and the other in ink: the latter appears to have been superimposed upon the former.
In deciding about the ink outline we are helped by the world map of Albertin de Virga, dated 1415 (#240). A comparison of the two maps suggests that the author (or editor) of the Laurentian map was acquainted with this work, for while the correspondence between the two is only general, it is distinctive and can hardly have been fortuitous as no other medieval maps introduce the Terrestrial Paradise and its river system under exactly the same guise.
De la Ronciere, for instance, speaks of the map with its a€?prescience de la forme reelle de la€™Afrique avant le periple Portuguaisa€? [foreknowledge of the actual shape of Africa before the Portuguese exploration].



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