The world’s oldest globe that depicts the New World possibly harks back to the Renaissance period, circa 1504 AD. And now, another rare 16th-century map has come into the spotlight, by virtue of its sheer size – a 10 ft (3 m) square when joined together, which makes it the largest known early map of the world. This incredible 60-sheet contrivance was made by Urbano Monte, an Italian nobleman (1544-1613) hailing from Milan. And for the first time in 430 years, researchers at the David Rumsey Map Center at Stanford University have been able to recreate the unified scope of the map by (digitally) assembling many pieces together – as was originally intended by its owner back in the 16th century.
As we can make out from the above image, the digital recreation provides us with a unique perspective that emanates from the North Pole position and covers a 2D circular view of the world. According to David Rumsey himself (as written in his blog) –
Monte’s map reminds us of why historical maps are so important as primary resources: the north polar azimuthal projection of his planisphere uses the advanced scientific ideas of his time; the artistry in drawing and decorating the map embodies design at the highest level; and the view of the world then gives us a deep historical resource with the listing of places, the shape of spaces, and the commentary interwoven into the map. Science, art, and history all in one document. Until now, Monte’s manuscript map was seen as a series of 60 individual sheets. The only assembled version is the small single page key sheet of the series. Now that we have joined all 60 sheets digitally (accomplished with great skill by Brandon Rumsey), we can appreciate in a new way the extraordinary accomplishment that Monte made. The assembled map, just over 10 feet in diameter, is one of the largest—if not the largest—world maps made in the 16th century. The degree of detail and decoration is stunning and the entire production is surely unique in the history of cartographic representation.
Now beyond the impressive nature of illustrations and some expected ‘mishits’ (like the distortion of Antarctica), one of the noteworthy features of Monte’s map pertains to the depiction of fantastical creatures like unicorns, centaurs, mermaids, griffins, and even a monstrous bird that carries an elephant. These are complemented by drawings of contemporary political figures, like Philip II of Spain and ships from his renowned Spanish Armada across both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.
Interestingly enough, some segments of the 100 sq ft Monte’s map showcase geographical areas that were related to the maker’s own interests during his lifetime. To that end, while already having a passion for cartography at the age of 41, Monte was fascinated by the geography of Japan, especially after he made a visit to the Japanese embassy in Europe, in 1585 AD. And while he did erroneously illustrate the Japanese islands horizontally instead of vertically (pictured above), he strove to rather magnify the scale of these landmasses and also fill them up with features that would mirror his rare cartographical knowledge about the Far East.
And finally, as for the original intention of Monte when it came to this massive and magnificent world map, this is what Rumsey had to say –
Monte made his map to serve not only as a geographical tool but also to show climate, customs, length of day, distances within regions – in other words, to create a universal scientific planisphere. In his dedication on Tavola XL he specifies how to arrange the sheets of the planisphere and makes it explicit that the whole map was to be stuck on a wooden panel 5 and a half brachia square (about ten feet) so that it could be revolved around a central pivot or pin through the north pole. This was never done, but now we can do it virtually – Monte’s 60 sheet world map digitally assembled into a 10-foot planisphere.
Source/ For More Images, You Can Check Out The Blog Post: David Rumsey