A superb fourth edition of Ruscelli’s updated and expanded Ptolemaic Geography, edited by G. Rosaccio. Complete with a handsome contemporary vellum binding and ink lettering. Excellent condition.
One of the many consequences of the Crusades was an interaction between Christendom and the Islamic world that lead to Europe rediscovering much of the Classical heritage that was lost in the religious rigor of the Middle Ages. Among the most important ancient writers to be taken up again was the geographer Claudius Ptolemy, who had authored a seminal work on the world’s composition, entitled Geografia. In late 14th century Italy, Ptolemy’s Geography was translated and reprinted, and soon thereafter new versions were compiled, in which schematic maps were drawn-up to compliment the original textual descriptions. This revival of Ptolemaic thinking was strongest in the mercantile cities of Italy, where it became the dominant vision of world geography. That is, until the Age of Exploration began challenging Classical conceptions of the world.
Neatline’s copy of Ptolemy’s Geographia is a magnificent late sixteenth-century edition from Venice, the hometown of pioneer explorers like Marco Polo and Sebastian Cabot. It was produced towards the end of the age of Ptolemaic geography. By the time of its publication in 1599, the New World had long been discovered, just as the Pacific had been crossed, the Cape of Good Hope had been rounded, and substantial parts of Asia had been mapped. Most of these new realities simply did not align with Ptolemy’s descriptions of the world, and so Italy’s geographers were forced to adapt and reconsider their model. The incongruence between the described and the observed was resolved by adding new maps, which both showed the latest discoveries and tested new geographical concepts.
This revisionary approach was a crucial step towards building an accurate geography and is perfectly exemplified in this tome by noted Venetian mapmaker and mathematician, Girolamo Ruscelli (1518–1566). Ruscelli was perhaps the most progressive Ptolemaic geographer of his time and his atlas is among other things famous for its mapping of the Americas, as well as its willingness to revise and reconsider the concept of a great southern continent. The latter is demonstrated in four distinct maps, which all delineate its features in ways that are quite distinct from Ruscelli’s 1574 edition of Ptolemy.
The work is completely intact, containing a total of 69 engraved double-page maps with wide margins. These can be subdivided into four world maps (including one Ptolemaic view), seven maps of America, twenty-eight maps of Europe, ten maps of Africa, and twenty maps of Asia. Within the entire corpus, 27 maps can be classified as Ptolemaic, reflecting a Classical vision of the world, while no less than 42 constitute ‘new maps’, reflecting an informed Renaissance perspective on the world.
This quarto-sized volume consists of all three parts in one volume. Bound tightly in contemporary vellum and titled with black ink on the spine, ours is the fourth edition, which was edited by Giuseppe Rosaccio (c. 1530 – 1620) and published by the heirs of M. Sessa in 1598-99. We know that Rosaccio, a Venetian geographer and scholar, revised the copperplates of an earlier Ruscelli edition, augmenting the atlas with at least five new plates, as well as adding typical 16th century decorative features such as ships, sea monsters, and pictorial topography.
In general, this is a most excellent example of a Ptolemaic Geography from the Late Renaissance. It not only embodies a concept of the world that is millennia old, but also reflects how the Renaissance fostered a willingness among Europe’s intelligentsia to reconsider even the firmest of concepts. It is this intellectual flexibility; this openness to being wrong, that constitutes the foundation for our civilization’s success. Nowhere is this distinctly human trait brought out more exquisitely than in this extraordinary piece of Italian Renaissance culture.