Exploring Mapmaking in the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries


Describing the Earth has been a practice of many civilizations. The earliest pieces of cartographic history indicate that the Phoenecians were recording their travels and trade routes extensively over two thousand years ago.

The first organized and systematic studies of Cartography were accomplished by Claudius Ptolemy (pronounced 'tawlemy') in the Second century A.D. Ptolemy was an Alexandrian astronomer who compiled his findings about the nature of our Earth and the heavens above into his greatest work, Geographia. Much of the work Ptolemy completed came well before the rest of civilization could appreciate it. During Ptolemy's time and the centuries ahead, worldly travel was dangerous and comlicated. Advancements in science had not yet produced the tools to help travelers safely navigate their way over long distances. The perception of the size of the Earth was innacurate as well, as many maps of the time incorporate a world view encompassing only the middle east or regions of Europe.

A Byzantine Monk named Maximos Planudes rediscovered a manuscript of Ptolemy's Geographia sometime between 1260 and 1310. The maps of Geographia were incomplete and many were missing. Maximos Planudes drew many of the maps from descriptions in the text. These works all were collected in the libraries of Byzantium, and during the fall of Byzantium in 1453, Geographia and the works of Maximos Planudes fell into the ownership of the Turkish Sultan Mahammed II. At the time, the works lacked a world map, so the Sultan commissioned Georgios Amirutzes, a philosopher, to draw up a world map based on Ptolemy's text. The Sultan understood that the map would be out of date, but that is precisely what he wanted – an ancient map. To perpetuate this map he had the final work woven as a carpet from the drawing.

Sultan Mohammed II could possibly be the world's first map collector. Collectors are the individuals who have kept the history of Cartography compiled and existing for thousands of years.

The Art of Cartography is an exploration of mapmaking and Cartographic study in the most intriguing years of its development: The Post Rennaisance ages of Exploration and Discovery. During the 15th and 16th centuries, amazing achiuevements were made in science and technology. The first recorded journeys around the globe were happening, and for the first time, humans began to understand the scale of the Earth and its position in the universe.

Use this collective work as a guided tour into the accomplishments of the 15th and 16th centuries. Explore at your own pace, from beginning to end, or in sections individually. The major sections explore the maps themselves, an interactive exploration of the tools of mapmakers, and biographies of the Artists and Scientists of the time.



The Art of Cartography© 1999, Benjamin Wigton, All Rights Reserved. All content, text and imagery, contained in the Art of Cartography project may not be duplicated or reproduced without express consent of Benjamin Wigton.