Portolan Atlas Dedicated to Hieronymus Ruffault, Abbot of Saint Vaast and Saint Adrian


Battista Agnese, one of the most important Italian Renaissance cartographers, was born in Genoa. He worked in Venice in the period 1536−64, and in about 1544 he produced this sumptuous and well-executed manuscript atlas in pen-and-ink and watercolor with silver and gold illumination on vellum. The atlas reflects the latest geographic knowledge, gained primarily from voyages by Spanish and Portuguese explorers in the first half of the 16th century. A mere 50 years after Columbus's historic voyage of 1492, new information based on direct observation was rapidly changing the European image of the world. Maps one, two, and ten in the atlas all offer views of the Americas. Map one shows the Gulf of California discovered by Francisco de Ulloa in 1539, Yucatan as an island, and partial segments of the east and west coasts of South America. Map two shows the entire Atlantic Coast and parts of the Pacific Coast of North and South America. The river system in South America strongly suggests Brazil as an island. Map ten is an oval world map delineating the route of Magellan’s circumnavigation and the routes of the Spanish gold fleets from Peru to Spain, with overland portage across the Isthmus of Panama. In the blue-and-gold clouds surrounding the oval world are cherubs, or wind heads, representing the classical twelve-point winds from which modern compass directions evolved. A version of this world map appears in each of the 71 surviving atlases by Battista Agnese. Maps two and ten include what are among the earliest depictions of Panama. Map nine shows the Mediterranean Coast. The atlas, which also includes an armillary sphere and a finely drawn zodiac chart, was prepared for and dedicated to Hieronimus Ruffault, whose coat of arms faces the dedication. Ruffault was abbot of the Benedictine monastery of Saint Vaast and Saint Adrian in Arras, a northern French city of Gallo-Roman origin.

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Physical Description

Manuscript : pen-and-ink and watercolor, on vellum ; 21 x 29 centimeters


  1. Library of Congress, American Memory, “Agnese Atlas” http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/gmdhtml/gnrlagn.html.
  2. Library of Congress, The Luso-Hispanic World in Maps, http://www.loc.gov/rr/geogmap/luso/atlases.html.
  3. Ristow, Walter W. and R.A. Skelton, Nautical Charts on Vellum in the Library of Congress (Washington: Library of Congress, 1977).

Last updated: June 25, 2015