Cosmography and sources

A cartouche positioned in the center of Norway on Fra Mauro’s map recounts the shipwreck of Venetian merchant patrician Pietro Querini (ca. 1402-ca. 1448) in the northern Lofoten Islands and Norway. In the winter of 1431, en route from Crete to Flanders, his galley having passed Cape Finisterre, off Spain, repeated storms knocked down his mast and the ship was driven by the tempest into the ocean northwest of Ireland. Querini and some members of his crew abandoned the ship for a lifeboat and drifted at the mercy of the frigid waters until chance brought them to the deserted island of Sandøy, near Røst island in the Lofoten archipelago off the coast of Norway. Assisted by a local community of cod fishermen, the Venetian sailors survived the Arctic winter, living in the fishermen’s huts. In May 1432, they were brought from Røst to Trondheim, where they set out in Viking ships for England, sailing up the Thames to London.

After remaining for some time as guests of the city’s Venetian community, they re-crossed the English Channel and traversed Germany to return to Venice, where Querini drafted an account of his experience for the Venetian Senate. He described in details the customs and practices of the Nordic communities he had come to know, providing the first physical and cultural geography of the Arctic regions.

Based on Querini’s accounts, the map by Fra Mauro (active ca. 1430-ca. 1459/1464) hypothesizes a conjectural geography of the vast Nordic regions. In addition to Norway, he delineates territories he calls Grolandia, Islant, Fillandia, and Permia, extending several degrees beyond the North Pole, which is represented within the territories of the great Eurasian continent. Building upon Querini’s account, Fra Mauro imagines huge polar lands of ice, inhabited to the farthest reaches of the world, where ferocious peoples live underground, surviving on fish and fur hunting.