With the invention of photography, the world map by Fra Mauro (active ca. 1430-ca. 1459/1464) became a subject of major photographic projects. The first was by Venetian photographer Carlo Naya (1816-1882), who reproduced the world map in full size in 1873 using sixteen large photographic plates. A photograph from this period documents one of these prints on exhibit in the Ducal Palace in Venice, together with globes by Vincenzo Coronelli (1650-1718). In 1877, the Venetian publisher Ferdinando Ongània (1827-1885) published a photographic facsimile in four plates, which accompanied a study on medieval world maps by German geographer Theobald Fischer (1846-1910).

Over a half-century later, the Italian government commissioned Florence’s Fratelli Alinari, one of the world’s earliest photographic firms, to create a lifesize photographic copy for the 1942 Universal Exposition in Rome. The Exposition was canceled due to the war, but Alinari printed at least three copies of the map using the collotype technique, which entailed hand-painting to accurately render the map’s colors. One of these copies is on view today in the Galileo Museum in Florence. A second copy is preserved at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Rome. The third, unpainted, is held by the Alinari Archive.

In 1954, on the occasion of celebrations for the seven hundredth anniversary of the birth of Marco Polo (1254-ca. 1324), the State Mint and Stationery Office published a facsimile edition of the map in 48 lithographic plates in twelve colors. The edition was accompanied by a diplomatic transcription of almost 3000 textual cartouches mapped with a coordinate system. A graduated tracing paper superimposed on the map allowed the reader to locate the texts’ placement.

Supervised and curated by Tullia Gasparrini Leporace (1910-1969), director of the Marciana Library and professor of Paleography at the University of Padua, this precise paleographic work represents the basis for subsequent editions and studies of the Fra Mauro world map.