Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Sailing to.....

Before Mercator, pilots used charts that showed the location of ports and coastal features and provided directions on how to navigate between these points of reference. Details of the coast were critical as vessels often chose to sail closer to land to mitigate potential open sea and weather hazards. These earlier maps were known as portolan charts - a name derived from the Italian - and are often fantastically detailed and depict the coastlines of the major land masses with stunning accuracy.

Our portolan chart was made by Nicolas Comberford around 1657 in Redcliffe, England and depicts the Mediterranean and Black Sea. True to the style, numerous coastal towns and cities are pinpointed and the small islands of the area are numbered and listed in tables in the interior spaces of the adjoining countries. As with most portolan charts, the interior land masses are left largely blank since the focus of the chart was navigation on the water. Unlike most portolans, Comberford has not included the standard compass lines connecting major destinations, opting instead for a more open grid to demonstrate direction and relative distance.


The chart is constructed of vellum attached to hinged and folded oak boards. Despite its use on ship, the map shows very little water staining and is brilliantly colored with gold leaf accents. Though the map apparently belonged to a Captain John Smyth, this is, alas, not the Captain Smith of Virginia fame. That Captain Smith died before the creation of this chart.

Ask for Codex 657940 to see the chart.

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