Atlas with Portolan Charts of the Old World and New World, 1580


This atlas of portolan charts of the old and the new worlds consists of 16 double leaves made from fine white parchment, bound in costly red morocco leather (made from fine goatskin) with gold ornaments in oriental style. The important Portuguese mariner, cartographer, and painter Fernão Vaz Dourado is thought to have made the atlas in 1580, near the end of his life. It belongs to a class of late-16th-century cartographic masterpieces, which reflect the period’s rising demand for cartographic works that were both visually impressive and useful for practical navigation. The atlas was commissioned by the Portuguese crown and produced in Goa, western India, where Dourado spent his last years. The geographical scope of the atlas extends from South America to the Persian Empire, to China (where Canton is named), to Java and New Guinea, and to North America. The charts are remarkable for their narrative wealth. In the regions displayed, natives are portrayed wearing no clothes, with attributes thought to be typical, while busy hunting, gathering food, or carrying out other activities representative of their respective countries as portrayed in Western literary works. The conquerors, in contrast, appear on horseback, wearing hats and suits. The map of Africa contains what most likely is a pictorial allusion to the battle between the Portuguese and Moors near Ksar el-Kebir (Alcazarquivir, Morocco) in 1578. The two riders clad in characteristic costumes and carrying banners may represent the main protagonists in the battle, King Sebastião I of Portugal and Sultan Abd Al-Malik of Morocco (shown wearing a turban). The atlas was transferred from Polling Abbey (Upper Bavaria), when it was dissolved in 1803, to the Munich Court Library, which became the Bavarian State Library, where it has remained ever since.

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Goa, India


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Physical Description

38 sheets, parchment : illustrations ; 47 x 33.5 centimeters


  • BSB Shelfmark: Cod.icon. 137

Last updated: April 1, 2015