Giovanni Leardo, Venice, 1452
The oldest world map held at the AGS Library is the Leardo Mappamundi. This is one of three known world maps signed and dated by the fifteenth century Venetian cartographer, Giovanni Leardo. The two others, that are similar but not identical, are located at the Biblioteca Comunale in Verona, Italy and the other at the Museo Civico in Vicenza, Italy.
The map was originally presented to the American Geographical Society of New York by Archer M. Huntington. Huntington was a long time member of the Society, serving as President from 1907-1911. Huntington donated this manuscript map to the AGS of NY in 1906 after having paid just under $2,000. Since the transfer of the AGS of NY research library to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the Leardo map has been veiwed by researchers and the public. In 2008, it taveled to the Field Museum in Chicago for the Maps: Finding our place in the World exhibit and later at the Walter's Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. In preparation for this exhibit, the map underwent some slight restoration and reframing.
Description of the Map
The map depicts the parts of the world known to Europeans in the late Middle Ages. It is considered the finest example of a medieval mappamundi preserved in the Western Hemisphere.
Following a common convention of medieval mapping, Jerusalem (A) is placed at the center of the tripartite world consisting of Asia, Europe and Africa, the three known continents. These are, in turn, encircled by the ocean.
The map is "oriented" with east and the Terrestrial Paradise (B) at the top, Asia in the upper half (C), Europe at the lower left (D), and Africa to the right (E). The shapes of the Mediterranean Sea (F) and of western Europe are surprisingly well drawn and easily recognizable, most likely being based on the portolan sea charts of the time. In addition to names derived from Ptolemy's Geographia, the names, especially those related to eastern Europe, were supplemented by Marco Polo's travel accounts.
With the exception of the aptly colored Red Sea (G), the seas are uniformly blue. Land areas are the natural color of the bleached parchment except for a vivid red region in the far south (H) bearing the inscription "Dixerto dexabitado per caldo" (desert uninhabited due to heat) and a drab brown waste in the far north (I) marked "Dixerto dexabitado per fredo" (desert uninhabited due to cold).
All three of Leardo's maps have a similar feature -- a series of rings surrounding the circular map and constituting an elaborate calendar. These ten concentric circles present data by which one can determine the dates of Easter for ninety-five years from April 1, 1453 to April 10, 1547; the names of the months (J), and the day, year, and minute when the sun enters each sign of the zodiac; the phases of the moon; the dates on which Sunday falls in various months and years; the length of respective days; and saints' days and festivals (K). Winds blowing from the points of the compass are shown by eight faces around the edge of the central disk. The corners of the map are occupied by figures representing the four evangelists: the lion for St. Mark (L), the bull for St. Luke (M), the angel for St. Matthew (N), and the eagle for St. John (O) .