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Portolan Chart of the British Isles f. 6v

Portolan Chart of the British Isles f. 6v

Cartographer: Vesconte, Maggiolo

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 1510

Shelfmark: Egerton MS. 2803 f. 6v

Length: 28.7

Width: 21.2

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Manuscript Map

This is a portolan chart from a bound atlas, it shows the British Isles. It is the work of the chart maker Maggiolo Vesconte and dates from 1510. 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 almost separated by two opposing rivers with a tiny portion of land between them. The south coast is the most accurately depicted area. The Bay of Cardigan is absent, presenting smooth welsh coast line typical of this period. The Bay of Cardigan was first accurately depicted in printed form by Gerard Mercator in 1564.

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