[India-Pakistan-Bangladesh-Tibet] Tabula Decima Dasia.


Date: 1482
Place: Florence
Dimensions: 53 x 41.5 cm (21 x 16.3 in)
Condition Rating: VG+

In stock

SKU: NL-01687 Category: Tag:

One of the earliest printed maps of South Asia ever produced.


This double-page tavola map is the ‘Tenth Asia Plate’ and shows the entirety of the Indian Subcontinent, including the countries and regions we today know as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Tibet. Even for those familiar with Indian geography, recognizing the features of Berlinghieri’s map takes a bit of inspection. Most notable is the diminutive size of the Subcontinent itself, which appears almost as if it has been pushed into the Asian landmass so that only its southern half actually takes the form of a promontory. 

While this configuration was far from geographic reality, flattening the Indian Subcontinent in this manner was not unusual in this early phase of European cartography. Virtually all maps of the Subcontinent from this period apply this configuration, including the world maps of Berlinghieri, the two Rome editions of Ptolemy (1478 & 1490), the Ulm Edition (1482), as well as the early work of groundbreaking cartographers like Martin Waldseemüller or Francesco Roselli. The first cartographer to challenge the notion was Johann Ruysch, who, in the third edition of the Rome Ptolemy (1507), gave the Indian Subcontinent much more shape and mass. Presumably, this new configuration was based on early Portuguese reports, but regardless of the source, others soon followed.

Despite the strange appearance of the Indian Subcontinent, there are still many recognizable features that firmly cement the map. As in reality, India is framed by two great rivers. Along the left edge of the map, we see the Indus fed by the Himalayan snows at the top of the map and emptying into the Arabian Sea just above the Gulf of Kutch (here labeled Canthi Sino). Along the opposite edge, we find the Ganges (Gange Fiu), which flows via an elaborately drawn delta (Gangaride) into the Bay of Bengal (Golpho Gangetico Indigopelago). The large landmass between them is labeled INDIA DENTRO AL GANGE, reflecting that unique element of Berlinghieri, namely that his work was written in Italian rather than Latin. The framing of India between these two rivers, and the toponyms found on the map, underscore how natural barriers such as mountains, oceans, and rivers have always been used to delineate regions.

Even though much of Berlinghieri’s understanding of the world comes from a Roman source, the geography of South Asia hinges less on myth and imagination than on most distant regions. The Romans sailed directly on India for centuries, meaning Roman scholarship had substantial knowledge of this region. This knowledge is partly reflected in the higher density of place names in the western part of this map, but the geographic eschewing by mercantile interests becomes palpably clear once we compare the Subcontinent with the island of Taprobane (Sri Lanka). We note the island’s presence on this map in the form of a protruding landmass at the bottom labeled Parte di Taprobane Isola. Yet, the true distinction is unclear until this map is compared to the separate sheet dedicated to Taprobane.

The understanding of Indian Ocean geography would change radically once the Portuguese opened a sea route in 1488. But when Berlinghieri and Tedesco were working on their atlas, this was still an exotic world shrouded by mystery and legend.


Context is Everything

The current map comes from Francesco di Niccolo Berlinghieri’s ‘Septe Giornate della Geographia’ (Seven Days of Geography), which was completed around 1479 and printed in Florence in 1482. It is generally regarded as the third printed atlas of the world (following the Bologna edition of 1477 and the Rome edition of 1478) and the first atlas ever to be printed in vernacular Italian. But where the previous editions were attempts to enhance the original translation with maps and a more up-to-date vernacular, ‘Septe Giornate’ was something quite different.

Berlinghieri had many passions, but two of his greatest were Classical Greek learning and poetry. In this unique work, Berlinghieri combines the two to approach the subject of geography in a completely new way. It is, in essence, a paraphrase of Ptolemy’s original text in Italian verse. In his seminal book on early printed maps (1987), Tony Campbell describes it as follows: “The Geographia of Francesco di Niccolò Berlinghieri (1440-1501) is not an edition of Ptolemy; it is rather a description of the world in Italian verse derived from classical and contemporary sources” (Campbell 1987: 124).

The ‘Septe Giornate’ included 31 engraved maps, of which the first was a World map, and the remaining maps consisted of the regional tavola maps that were also known from the Bologna and Rome editions. Atlases of this early period naturally focused on the three known continents: Europe, Africa, and Asia. For the latter, Berlinghieri’s atlas included maps of Asia Minor, the Caucasus, Greater Palestine, Syria and Iraq, Persia, Arabia, the Caspian littoral, China, Tibet, Afghanistan, Baluchistan, India, and our map of Sri Lanka.

Like all the maps for the Septe Giornate, this map was compiled and engraved by the German printer and engraver Niccolò Tedesco. His skill in engraving copper plates allowed for much greater detail to penetrate the map, bringing the world to life in a new dramatic way. Even though Tedesco used the Bologna and Rome editions as inspiration for his maps, he added many details of his own volition and even created four entirely new or ‘modern’ compositions (i.e. Hispania Novella, Gallia Novella, Novella Italia and Palestina Moderna). The discovery of the Americas would soon mean that the introduction of these ‘modern maps’ became a more common phenomenon in the 16th century, but Berlinghieri and Tedesco appear to have been the first to come up with the idea.

Most scholars agree that much, if not all, of the Septe giornate was likely completed by 1479. This included the maps, which were printed as a single large batch and subsequently bound. A significant number of extra map sheets were nevertheless left over from the original printing. After Berlinghieri’s death in 1501, these were purchased and bound into a new edition with a new title page that was issued around 1503-1504. The majority of intact copies that reach the open market today are this edition. Individual sheets are exceedingly rare. Because no revised status of the maps was ever printed, it is impossible to ascertain with certainty to which category our map belongs. But ultimately, every single copy of this map would have been printed in the same batch.

Before ending, a quick note should be made on the work’s dedicatory history. Berlinghieri’s work was originally to be dedicated to the Ottoman Sultan, Mehmed the Conqueror, who in 1453 had accomplished the unimaginable feat of taking Constantinople, finally ending the last vestiges of the Roman Empire in the process. But the sultan died in 1481, just as Berlinghieri was getting ready to publish. So instead, he dedicated his atlas to Federico da Montefeltro, the Duke of Urbino. In what must have been a frustrating turn of events, the duke also died before the final edition was printed, but the dedication was maintained. At least two manuscript versions of the book were also created, dedicated, and gifted to Lorenzo de Medici and Federigo da Montefeltro (the son and new Duke of Urbino). The copy gifted to Lorenzo di Medici remains intact and in Florence (Helas 2002). Finally, a copy of the printed edition with a personalized dedication was sent to the new Ottoman Sultan, Beyazid II, and remains part of the Topkapi Palace library.


Francesco di Niccolo Berlinghieri

Francesco di Niccolo Berlinghieri (1440–1501) was a 15th-century Italian scholar, humanist, and a keen student of Classical Greek learning. He was one of the first Italians to print a text based on Ptolemy’s Geographia, which he supplemented with his other great passion: poetry.

Niccolò Tedesco

Niccolò Tedesco (a.k.a. Nicolaus Laurentii; Niccolò di Lorenzo) was a German printer who lived in Florence during the late 15th century. He most likely learned the basics of printing in his native Wroclaw. Tedesco was among the first Italian printers to use copper plate engravings, and he was behind a number of important works from the Italian Renaissance.

Having moved from what is today Poland to Florence, Tedesco first worked in a nunnery of the Dominican Order, where the sisters served as compositors and printers. Among Tedesco’s most famous works, we find Cristoforo Landino’s commentary to Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy (first printed in 1472) and the Septe Giornate della Geographia di Francesco Berlinghieri, which was among the first printed atlases based on Ptolemy.

Condition Description

Minor expert repairs to chipping and sewing holes.


Campbell, Tony (1987). The Earliest Printed Maps (1472-1500), British Library: London.

Helas, Philine. (2002). The "Flying Map". Le' Septe Giornate della Geographia', by Franesco Berlinghieri \ dedicated to Federico da Montefeltro and Lorenzo de Medici, and depictions of the world in 15th-century Florence (Cartography). Mitteilungen des Kunsthistorischen Institutes in Florenz 46: 271-320.

Peerlings, R.H.J. & F. Laurentius (2023). Berlinghieri's Geography Unveiled. Freely available at www.berlinghieri.eu

Skelton, R.A. (1966). A bibliographical note prefixed to the facsimile of Berlinghieri's Geographia, Theatrum Orbis Terrarum: Amsterdam.