The major event in map making in the 15th century was the rediscovery of the classical geography of Ptolemy, unknown to the west for a thousand years. The Ptolemaic maps presented a system of ordered space that mirrored precisely the aims of Renaissance art. Yet their world view was still that of the late Roman era, and it is one of the ironies of map history that these maps achieved wide dissemination just as they were to become wholly outdated by voyages of discovery. In this map we see the beginning of that process. Clearly Ptolemaic in structure, the map has been modified in several important areas, most noticeably in its depiction of Africa. In his voyage of 1487-88, Bartholomeu Dias had rounded the Cape. This is the first known map to announce that fact: Ptolemy’s land-locked Indian Ocean is gone. Within two years, Columbus’ voyages would reshape the map still more radically, so that this may be regarded as the last view of the old world.
- Article by:
- Peter Whitfield
- Science and nature
Peter Whitfield shows how British Library maps chart the evolution of man's understanding of the earth and cosmos.