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About this book

This book presents groundbreaking new research on a fifteenth-century world map by Henricus Martellus, c. 1491, now at Yale. The importance of the map had long been suspected, but it was essentially unstudiable because the texts on it had faded to illegibility. Multispectral imaging of the map, performed with NEH support in 2014, rendered its texts legible for the first time, leading to renewed study of the map by the author. This volume provides transcriptions, translations, and commentary on the Latin texts on the map, particularly their sources, as well as the place names in several regions. This leads to a demonstration of a very close relationship between the Martellus map and Martin Waldseemüller’s famous map of 1507. One of the most exciting discoveries on the map is in the hinterlands of southern Africa. The information there comes from African sources; the map is thus a unique and supremely important document regarding African cartography in the fifteenth century. This book is essential reading for digital humanitarians and historians of cartography.

Table of Contents


Chapter 1. Henricus Martellus and His Works

Henricus Martellus was a German cartographer active in Florence from about 1459–1496. His German descent is clear from his signature on the Yale Martellus map, Opus Henrici Martelli Germani, and also in other of his works. In earlier literature it is stated that “Henricus Martellus” is the Latinized form of “Heinrich Hammer,” but there is no documentary evidence to show that the cartographer ever used the latter name. Recently Lorenz Böninger as part of his studies of the fifteenth-century German community in Florence has argued that Henricus Martellus Germanus is to be identified as Arrigo di Federico Martello, an employee of the Martelli family of Florence, who were loyal to the Medici and were significant patrons of the arts. However, Luisa Rubini Messerli has disproven this identification with an impressive marshaling of paleographical evidence, and we are left without any knowledge of who Martellus was. The chances are good, though, that Martellus came to Florence from Nuremberg, which was the center of the German Renaissance in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and his work as a cartographer shows the influence of Donnus Nicolaus Germanus, who produced manuscripts of Ptolemy’s Geography in three different recensions, some of which included tabulae modernae or new, non-Ptolemaic maps, and who also in 1477 made one terrestrial and one celestial globe for the newly established Vatican Library.
Chet Van Duzer

Chapter 2. The Legends on the Yale Martellus Map

Using the 2014 multispectral images, I have been able to read many of the legends on the Yale Martellus map, and I present those legends, together with English translations and commentary, in the following pages. My purpose in studying the legends has been twofold: first, to gain a deeper understanding of the map itself, which is one of the most important and influential of the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries and yet is almost entirely unstudied, and, second, to explore the nature of the relationship between the Martellus map and Martin Waldseemüller’s famous world map of 1507. As mentioned in my introductory remarks above, the general similarity between the Yale Martellus map and Waldseemüller’s 1507 map has been noted previously, but the extent to which Waldseemüller might have used the Martellus map as a source for the details of his map had never been investigated.
Chet Van Duzer

Chapter 3. Toponyms in Arabia, Syria, and Mesopotamia

Central Arabia Felix and Arabia Deserta, Syria, and Mesopotamia are some of the most promising areas for the investigation of place names on the Yale Martellus map, because they are some of the few parts of the map where a large number of toponyms are consistently legible, particularly in the 1959 ultraviolet images and the multispectral images. These toponyms derive from Ptolemy, and a comparison of Martellus’s spellings of the toponyms in these areas with those in the editions of Ptolemy published prior to the creation of his map reveals that Martellus was using a manuscript of Ptolemy, rather than a printed edition. We might expect that Waldseemüller, given his use of Martellus’s map as a source, would simply have copied the toponyms that he found in Arabia, Syria, and Mesopotamia on Martellus’s map. But this is not the case: Waldseemüller made his own selection of Ptolemaic toponyms in these areas, so that Martellus’s map has toponyms that do not appear on Waldseemüller’s and Waldseemüller’s map has toponyms that do not appear on Martellus’s. This is a very interesting demonstration of the fact that while Waldseemüller made extensive use of Martellus as a source for descriptive texts, he generally did not depend on him for toponyms. Another instance of Waldseemüller’s choice not to use Martellus as a source of place names is his copying of the vast majority of the toponyms on the western coast of Africa from Caverio’s map, rather than from Martellus, which will be discussed in detail below.
Chet Van Duzer

Chapter 4. Toponyms on the Western and Southern Coasts of Africa

One of the areas on the Yale Martellus map that has elicited the greatest interest is the western and southern coasts of Africa, specifically the coastal place names. It seems likely that the Yale map, which is drawn at a larger scale than Martellus’s other world maps, would contain coastal place names that his other maps do not, place names from recent voyages down the coast of Africa that would shed light on his sources. There was no expectation that Martellus’s coastal African place names would have influenced Waldseemüller in making his 1507 map, for Fischer and von Wieser’s statement that Waldseemüller took his coastal African place names from Nicolo de Caverio’s chart of c. 1504 has been accepted without question. It would certainly be interesting to know whether there is a close correspondence between the coastal African place names on the Yale Martellus map and those on Martin Behaim’s globe of 1492.
Chet Van Duzer

Chapter 5. Southern Africa and the Egyptus Novelo Maps

Southern Africa turns out to be one of the most remarkable and surprising regions on the Yale Martellus map, but none of its details can be seen in natural light: it can only be studied though images taken with light beyond the visible spectra. The ultraviolet images of the map made in 1959 and 2010 reveal many of the details in the interior, and the 2010 infrared photographs show that Martellus wrote the names of the rivers in southern Africa with the same pigment he used for the water of the rivers, rather than the paint he usually used for toponyms and legends. But the 2014 multispectral images are by far the best tools for studying this part of the map: they clearly reveal named cities, mountain chains, and the full extent of the southern part of the Nile river system, which reaches to the southeastern part of the continent (Fig. 5.1).
Chet Van Duzer

Chapter 6. The Influence of the Yale Martellus Map

In the preceding pages, I have brought forward previously unnoticed evidence regarding the influence of the Yale Martellus map on Giovanni Contarini’s world map of 1506 and have demonstrated the profound influence of the map—or one very similar to it—on Martin Waldseemüller’s world map of 1507. In the past, it has been suggested that the Yale Martellus map heavily influenced Martin Behaim in the creation of his terrestrial globe of 1492, but this claim has not been examined in detail, and I propose to do so now.
Chet Van Duzer


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