Portolan Atlas of Battista Agnese


This portolan atlas is attributed to Battista Agnese (1514‒64), one of the most important Italian Renaissance cartographers. Of Genoese origin, Agnese was active in Venice from 1536 until his death. He is likely to have directed a full-fledged printing house where his maps were made. He produced approximately 100 manuscript atlases, of which more than 70 still exist, either with his signature or attributed to his studio. Considered works of art for their high quality and beauty, the atlases are mostly portolan, or nautical, atlases printed on vellum for high-ranking officials or wealthy merchants rather than for use at sea. The atlas presented here contains declination tables, an armillary sphere, the zodiac, and maps showing: the east and west coasts of North America; the Atlantic Ocean and west from Arabia to a speculatively shaped east coast of South America; the region from Africa to Southeast Asia; Western Europe; Spain and North Africa; the Mediterranean (several maps); the Black Sea; and the region around Greece and present-day Turkey. Common to most Agnese atlases and present here as well is an oval mappa mundi with cherubs, or wind heads, in blue and gold clouds, which represent the classical 12 wind points out of which evolved the modern compass points. This manuscript was made for Cardinal Guido Ascanio Sforza di Santa Fiora (1518‒64), whose coat of arms is found on folio 1 recto. The binding has a small compass covered by a glass disc embedded in the pastedown. The way in which the known world is represented as an oval projection with equidistant parallels came into common use later on, mainly thanks to the Piedmontese cartographer, engineer, and astronomer Giacomo Gastaldi (circa 1500–circa 1565) and the Flemish cartographer Gerardus Mercator (1512–94). The atlas belonged to Victor Emmanuel II, king of Sardinia from 1849 to 1861 and the first king of united Italy from 1861 until his death in 1878.

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15 folios (12 maps) : parchment ; 20.6 x 13.8 centimeters


  1. Maria Rosaria Manunta, “Schede,” in Biblioteca Reale Torino, edited by Giovanna Giacobello Bernard (Florence: Nardini, 1990).

Last updated: May 17, 2017