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Pomponius Mela: 'Novellae etati ad Geographie...'

Map: WLD4112
Cartographer: Pomponius Mela
Title: 'Novellae etati ad Geographie...'
Date: 1482
Published: Venice
Width: 8 inches / 21 cm
Height: 6 inches / 16 cm
Map ref: WLD4112
This map was issued in the 1482 Venetian edition of Pomponius Mela’s “Cosmographia Geographia” sometimes called “sive De Situs Orbis”. The printer was Erhard Ratdolt.

Little is known about Mela except that he was born in Spain and wrote this work around 43 or 44AD as he makes a reference to the proposed expedition to Anglia, almost certainly pertaining to the Emperor Claudius. Scholars have commented that Mela’s work is derivative of several earlier geographers such as Strabo and Eratosthenes, but that it does bear the distinction of being the only purely geographical treatise in classical Latin. It is also the first time that a geographer divides the earth into specific zones, in this case based on temperature. Pliny the Elder cites it as an important work in his Encyclopaedia of Natural History.

As with many important Greek and Latin classical works, manuscript copies of the “Cosmographia Geographia" were made and preserved throughout the Dark Ages and several references had been made to a map within these codexes. The first printed edition was issued in 1471, but without a map.

Erhard Ratdolt issued his edition in 1482 while living in Venice and bound within it for the first time a printed map. Ratdolt himself has been called one of the most important printers of the 15th century and he has multiple innovations associated with his name. He was the first person to use a full sized title page for his books, he was the first person to print a book in two colours, and he was universally admired for his revolutionary use of typography and layout.

It has been suggested that the map within this edition of the Cosmographia was Ratdolt’s own work. Although the map mainly portrays the classical world on Claudius Ptolemy’s model, there are some notable modern additions to its geography. These include Scandinavia, the Orkney Islands (for the first time on any map) and the integration of contemporary Portuguese knowledge of the west African coast.

Finally, two further points should be made on the importance of this piece. Firstly, Mela’s maps and writings were among the main classical sources consulted by the Columbus brothers before they set out on their voyage of discovery in 1492. Secondly, this map has also been cited as the source for another important and early map of the world: Hartmann Schedel's world map from the “Nuremberg Chronicle” in 1493.

Framed. [Shirley (R.): The Mapping of the World, 8] [WLD4112]