Giovanni Battista Cavallini and the Tradition of Mediterranean Portolan Atlases

Emmanuelle Vagnon - Researcher, Centre National de Recherches Scientifiques (CNRS), Paris



Portolan charts and atlases constitute a specific cartographic style of maritime map, produced in the Western Mediterranean from the 13th century. These maps were called and considered as nautical charts, but they were often used as geographical references and kept in libraries as luxury objects, ornamented with gold and bright colours and addressed to a refined audience.

This paper aims to describe in detail the beautiful portolan atlas made by Giovanni Battista Cavallini in 1635 for Ferdinando II de’ Medici, now in the collection of the Sylvia Ioannou Foundation. Following the pioneering study of Corradino Astengo on early modern portolan charts, it will analyse the historical context of the making of this atlas in relation to the geographical information provided by its maps. It will also address the artistic tradition and specific stylistic innovations of this atlas compared to the medieval and early modern history of nautical charts in the Mediterranean and compared to other 17th-century masterpieces, such as the atlases and maps made by the Oliva family of mapmakers.

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