If you are interested in early depictions of America, you have probably already seen this crude map by Alessandro Zorzi. It has become relatively famous because several scholars of the 19th and early 20th centuries traced its origin back to a lost map by Bartholomew Columbus. It shows the New World (“Mondo Novo”) as a big continent connected to Asia, with the Antilles lying somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.
Some readers may know that this map is not a stand-alone work, but part of a series of sketches found in a codex compiled by Zorzi. In two pages close to the previous one, the following two other maps are found.
In fact, the neat images presented above are not true to reality. Zorzi drew his maps on the margins of a text he himself copied. A more accurate image of what these maps actually look like is found below. The sketches are intertwined with the text, in this case with a letter written by Christopher Columbus from Jamaica. The maps helped Zorzi get a clearer picture of Columbus’s account. The first students of Zorzi’s maps were unaware of this context, which led to many unfortunate misunderstandings. It is now clear, for example, that these three sketches were most likely not copied from Bartholomew Columbus’s map.
What’s more, these three maps are far from being an isolated case in Zorzi’s production. He wrote a lot, hundreds of pages in several codices that are now preserved at Italian libraries. Many of those pages contain geographical sketches similar in style to those shown here. Why have you never seen them then? Because they have been published very rarely, to my knowledge only three times.
The first one was in 1930, when Sebastiano Crino edited a 73-page monograph on Zorzi’s codex. This book can now only be found in a few select libraries worldwide. The second one was the reproduction of just a few pages in Gaetano Ferro, The Genoese Cartographic Tradition and Christopher Columbus (Libreria dello Stato, English trasnlation of 1996). Thanks to a Belgian collector who called my attention to this book, I can now share with you pictures of two of these little-known maps by Alessandro Zorzi.
Finally, and fortunately, a digital version of the main codices made by Alessandro Zorzi has been published very recently, in 2014, as a complement to the proceedings of a conference entitled Vespucci, Firenze e le Americhe. Eminent Italian historian Luciano Formisano was in charge of editing this CD-ROM. The book and the disc can be purchased from editor Olschki for 53 €.