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Portolan Chart of Europe Showing the British Isles f. 7v

Portolan Chart of Europe Showing the British Isles f. 7v

Cartographer: Battista, Agnese

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 1540

Shelfmark: Add. MS 21592 f. 7v

Length: 23

Width: 36.5

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Manuscript Map

This is a portolan chart from a bound atlas dating from around 1540. It is the work of Battista Agnese, a chart maker from Genoa, who prepared many portolan atlases in the 16th century. 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. Reflecting their use by sailors they note only coastal locations, omitting most of the internal detail of the land. Place names are written at right angels to the coast, the more important ports in red ink. The lines which cover this and all other portolan charts are lines of constant bearing known as rhumb lines. These radiate from compass roses and allow the sailor to plot a course from harbour to harbour using dividers and straight edge. Here England and Scotland are joined but the south east coast is foreshortened giving a distorted view. The Bay of Cardigan is indicated but the lack of the Lleyn Peninsula reveals incomplete knowledge. The depiction of Ireland includes the fabled purgatory of St Patrick, a large internal lake populated by over 300 tiny islands. A cluster of rocks are indicated by crosses at the approach to the Thames estuary, leading to the most important port, London.

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