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Portolan Chart of Western Europe Showing the British Isles f. 2

Portolan Chart of Western Europe Showing the British Isles f. 2

Cartographer: Freducci, Conte

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 1538

Shelfmark: Add. MS 10132

Item number: f. 2

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Manuscript Map

This is a portolan Chart showing the British Isles. It was drawn in 1538 in the Italian town of Ancona. The chart is annotated in the Venetian dialect. 

Portolan charts are representations of coastlines made by, and for the use of navigators. Invented by mariners, portolan charts take their name from the Italian ‘Portolano’, meaning a written description of Catalan and Italian ports along a coastline. The first portolan charts date from the late 13th century and represent an important change in the use of maps and charts. Until this point, most maps had held a religious significance and purpose, such as the medieval mappa mundi which was based on theological beliefs. 

The portolan chart contrasts with this tradition as they are based on direct observation and first hand experience and have a practical purpose. This portolan shows England and Scotland as separate landmasses, linked by a small bridge of land. This is an invention of the chart-maker Conte di Octomano Freducci that was copied and adopted by other cartographers of the period and beyond. As this chart is intended for use by mariners it details only towns and cities on the coast, leaving the internal areas blank. More important ports are noted in red ink, such as London, marked by a cluster of spired buildings at the head of the Thames. 

The shape of England shown here is typical of the first half of the 16th century as the north west coast is sown as a smooth curve, revealing a lack of knowledge of the Bay of Cardigan, evidence of which only begins to appear on maps after 1550. Ireland is shown with the detail of the Purgatory of St Patrick included. This was a fabled internal lake populated by many tiny islands which was thought to exist around the north-east corner of Ireland. The Orkney islands are represented by jigsaw piece shaped fragments to the west of Scotland.

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