The world map by Fra Mauro (active ca. 1430-ca. 1459/1464) reflects a vision of the world that was coming into focus in one of the most flourishing commercial and cultural centers in Europe: the Republic of Venice. Celebrated by Giovanni Battista Ramusio (1485-1557) in the mid-16th century as one of the “wonders of Venice”, Fra Mauro’s world map can be counted among the most visionary cosmographical works of all time. It was created during the mid-15th century at the monastery of San Michele in Isola, where it remained for three centuries, displayed first in the church, then in the monastery’s library, up until the Napoleonic Era. When the religious orders were suppressed in 1810, the map was transferred to Venice, first to the San Marco Library, then to the Ducal Palace, and then once again to the library, now called the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, where it is preserved today.
Composed as a 196 cm-diameter circle (77 inches), contained within a square frame measuring 223 centimeters on each side (87.7 inches), the world map integrates the Geography by Ptolemy (ca. 100-ca. 178) and marine charts with thousands of descriptive texts and hundreds of images. The inscriptions derive from both written and oral sources, including ancient authorities such as Ptolemy and Pliny (ca. 23-79); medieval scholars such as Campano da Novara (ca. 1210-1296), Albert the Great (ca. 1193-1280), and Thomas Aquinas (ca. 1225-1274); 14th-century travelers like Marco Polo (1254-ca. 1324) and Odorico da Pordenone (ca. 1280-1331); contemporary explorers such as Niccolò de’ Conti (ca. 1395-1469) and Pietro Querini (ca. 1402-ca. 1448); Ethiopian monks who had to come visit Venice; and other anonymous witnesses, who furnished Mauro with detailed information on the major trade routes in the Indian Ocean and early Portuguese navigation in the Atlantic. The iconographic repertoire is extremely rich: cities, castles, temples, funerary monuments, roads, borders, ships, and shipwrecks. In the corners there are also three representations of the celestial world and even a gorgeous Garden of Eden illuminated by Leonardo Bellini (active ca. 1443-1490).
Far different from the Christian, symbolic portrayals common in medieval maps, Fra Mauro’s world map represents a cartographic space centered especially on mankind, on human commerce and travel, but including also the era’s most ambitious dreams.
To provide a larger audience with the opportunity to unlock the contents and graphic symbols of such an extraordinary and visionary cartographic object, this digital edition has been created following the model of the equally innovative and complex world map by Martin Waldseemüller (ca. 1470-ca. 1520).