Cosmography

Description

The Greek astronomer, mathematician, and geographer Claudius Ptolemaeus (circa 100–circa 178), known as Ptolemy, was a theoretician of geocentrism who collected his geographical works in the Geōgraphikḕ Hyphḗgēsis (Introduction to geography) in eight books. This work, which was considered the summation of all the geographical knowledge of the Greco-Roman world, was largely neglected in the West during the Middle Ages. It came back into fashion thanks to the Byzantine humanist Manuel Crisoloras (1350‒1415), who brought knowledge of the work to Italy. One of his pupils, the Florentine Jacopo di Angelo da Scarperia (also seen as Jacobus Angelus de Scarperia), translated the book from Greek into Latin with the title Cosmographia. He dedicated his translation to Pope Alexander V. Copies of Ptolemaic manuscripts were jealously guarded in the richest libraries of Italy and elsewhere in Europe. This manuscript was copied by the German Benedictine monk Nicolaus Germanus in the second half of the 15th century in the court of Borso d’Este (1413‒71) at Ferrara. The tables in the work are prefaced by brief descriptions and drawn in conic projection, enclosed externally within a gilded frame and internally within a further frame indicating the geographic coordinates. Bodies of water, mountains, plains and woods are drawn in different and particularly vibrant colors: blue, sienna, white, and green. A striking aspect of the work is the planisphere in the middle of the book representing the whole world as it was known at the time; it is surrounded by anthropomorphic depictions of the winds on a delicately water-colored azure background. The decorations and illuminations in the codex are by a Florentine artist, possibly belonging to the school of Francesco di Antonio del Chierico (1433‒84), one of the most elegant illuminators of the Florentine Renaissance. Near the beginning of the manuscript is a depiction of Ptolemy at work at his calculations. Ptolemaic works were not superseded in the West for almost two centuries, as numerous printed editions were produced in the late 15th and 16th centuries. Jacopo di Angelo da Scarperia’s Latin translation was first published in 1475, while the original Greek text saw its editio princeps in 1533, edited by Erasmus of Rotterdam. The publication of modern atlases―starting in 1570 with the Theatrum orbis terrarum (Theater of the world) of Abraham Ortelius―in time relegated the works of Ptolemy to little more than testaments to the geographic and astronomical knowledge of the ancients. The manuscript is part of the Farnese Collection, which arrived in Naples with the Bourbon monarch, Charles III, King of Spain and conqueror of Naples in 1734, heir on his maternal side to this extremely rich collection that once belonged to Pope Paul III.

Last updated: October 17, 2017