Historia y Mapas

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A mapmaking workshop in Palos around 1500

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Versión en español

Many references to maps and navigation charts are found in the documents of the earliest discovery voyages sent to America from Andalusia, then a part of the Crown of Castile, in the 1490’s and 1500’s. It is well known that renowned cartographers like Andrés de Morales and Juan de la Cosa made maps for the sovereigns and their ministers. Also mentioned are cartographic works and sketches made by anonymous navigators on many trips.

But only one Andalusian map dated earlier than 1508 has been preserved: the map of Juan de la Cosa, drawn in El Puerto de Santa Maria in 1500. There also exists, it is true, an anonymous map in Pesaro, Italy dated 1504 that could be a copy of a chart from Andalusia. [1]

It is known that in Palos de la Frontera (nowadays in the province of Huelva, Spain) there existed a cartographic workshop thanks to a letter by Angelo Trivigiano dated in Granada on August 21, 1501. Trivigiano, who was the secretary of the Venetian ambassador to the Catholic Kings, wrote to his countryman Domenico Malipiero:

(…) I have had so much to do with Columbus that we are now on intimate terms, and I have a great friendship for him. He is at present here [in Granada] in great want, out of favor with the sovereign, and with little money. Through him I have sent to Palos, a place where only sailors and men acquainted with Columbus’s voyage live, to have a map made at the request of your Magnificence. It will be extremely well executed, and copious and minute in respect to all the newly discovered countries. There is no such map here save one in the possession of the said Columbus, nor is there any man who can make one.

I shall have to wait some days for the same, because Palos, where it is to be made, is seven hundred miles from here; and then when it is finished I do not know how I can send it, as I have ordered it to be made of a large size [“del compasso grande” in the original] that it may be handsomer. I expect your Magnificence will be obliged to await our coming, which necessarily cannot be far off, seeing that we shall soon  have been out of the Republic for a year. (…) [2]

This text gives some interesting details about Palos’s mapmaking workshop. First of all in this village there lived men who knew how to make maps, something that was impossible to find in the large city that Granada was by then. They painted large-scale charts whose quality was high enough for Columbus to consider it worthy of a Venetian high-ranking officer as Malipiero. And, as might be expected, Palos’s people had reliable information about the most recent geographical discoveries.

In the Andalusian coast there was thus around 1500 at least one mapmaking center whose fame got as far as Venice. But today absolutely none of its works are extant. The reason, besides the obvious wear and tear, is also to be found in a political decision taken by the Crown of Castile in 1508. But I leave this topic for a future entry.

[1]: Ricardo Cerezo Martínez, La Cartografía Náutica Española en Los Siglos XIV, XV y XVI (Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, 1994), p.50. Cerezo adds to this short list the sketches formerly attributed to Bartholomew Columbus ca. 1504 but these are nowadays believed to be a later work by Alessandro Zorzi.

[2]: Transcribed in Raccolta di Documenti e Studi, Parte III, Volume I, p.47. English translation by Henry Harrisse, Bibliotheca AmericanaVetustitssima (Leipzig: Shmidt & Günther, 1921), pp.80-81  from a modernized Italian version published by Jacopo Morelli, Lettera rarissima di Cristoforo Colombo (Bassano: Stamperia Remondiniana,1810), pp.43-45

 

Licencia de Creative Commons
This work by Luis A. Robles Macías is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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