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The Golden Age of Maritime Maps


"Portolan charts," so called from the Italian adjective "portolano," meaning "related to ports or harbours," were born during the 12th century in the maritime community. These charts, drawn on parchment and crisscrossed with lines referring to the compass directions, indicated the succession of ports and anchorages along the shores, and were used by European sailors exploring the world up until the 18th century.

Not only used as navigational instruments on boats, they were also produced for wealthy sponsors in the form of illuminated images of the world, to illustrate the economic and political interests of the major European sea powers.

This book takes stock of the state of knowledge on these maps, bringing together contributions from a dozen European specialists, who trace the history and diversity of styles and places of production of these charts.

This type of mapping is approached from three angles. The first part, "The Mediterranean," refers to the manufacture and use of the first charts, centered on the Mediterranean, and the persistence of this tradition in the Mediterranean basin until the 18th century.

The second part, "The Open Sea," shows how these regional charts have evolved from a technical and iconographical point of view at the time of the great European voyages, in order to include the oceans and new worlds.

The third part, "The Indian Ocean," shows how these charts, in a maritime area where ancient civilizations coexisted, were dependent on other cartographic traditions (ancient, Arab, Asian) before joining the information reported by Portuguese sailors and European trading companies in the modern era.

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About the Author

Catherine Hofmann, a paleographic archivist, is chief curator in the Department of Maps and Plans of the National Library of France. She is a board member of the journal Imago Mundi, and has published fifteen articles on the history of cartography in the modern era. Helene Richard, a paleographic archivist, is a former director of the Department of Maps and Plans at the National Library of France. In addition to her research on the history of books and libraries, she has published works on the history of maritime exploration in the 18th and 19th centuries and the associated nautical science. Emmanuelle Vagnon holds a PhD in history, specializing in maps of the Middle Ages. She is senior researcher at the French National Centre for Scientific Research and the University of Paris.


I'm an absolute map geek. It goes back to childhood when I could spend hours on the backseat of the family sedan with a roadmap, imagining where all the roads led and how far they could take me. I had a similar feeling (a similar rush?) from The Golden Ag--Aaron Blanton"January Magazine" (01/03/2014) Beautifully designed... it is difficult to not pick it up and be sucked into this historical journey of the golden age of mapmaking that told the story of European exploration around the world. You will truly find a new appreciation for those who traveled by land and sea without the aid of modern technologies and get a deeper sense of their inner thinking of what the world was like and just how imaginative people truly are.--Kim Heimbuch"San Francisco Book Review" (04/29/2014) (Best Book of 2013: Non-Fiction) This is much more than a book of maritime maps. It is, in essence, a book of the art and charts of the European maritime community between the 13th and 18th centuries and it's a wonderful thing, indicating magical lost and imagined places as well as what was known of the world at the time. I think I'll be "reading" this one forever.--Aaron Blanton"January Magazine" (01/03/2014) This work is for the maritime enthusiast. Included are essays by a number of European authorities who elaborate upon locations, styles, and evolution of portolan charts from the late Middle Ages to the Age of Discovery. The early portolans were 12th-century parchment charts that initially described coastlines, ports, and havens, with special reference to the Mediterranean. Those charts were transformed as shipping took to the oceans of the world toward the end of the Middle Ages... A glossary and list of exhibit pieces conclude a work of special interest to the historians of cartography. Color maps and other illustrations are a feature of this work. Recommended. All levels/libraries.--G. J. Martin, emeritus, Southern Connecticut State"Choice" (05/01/2014)

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