6. Early Marine Mapping

The decoration on “portolan” charts of the Mediterranean Sea — all hand-drawn on sheepskin (“vellum”) — varied according to the amount that their owners were willing to pay. Whoever commissioned item 28, from one of a family of chart makers in sixteenth-century Majorca, was willing to pay for a lot: an icon of Madonna and infant Jesus on the neck of the vellum; several ornate compass roses; large vignettes of the major Italian city states of Venice and Genoa; and exotic animals across North Africa.

Dutch map makers began to print charts in the seventeenth century, and were eventually followed by their English and French competitors. Even so, plain, hand-drawn charts remained affordable and were used by regular mariners until well into the eighteenth century.


28. Bartolomeo [Bartomeu] Olives (fl. 1538–88)

Chart of the Mediterranean Sea (Majorca, 1583)

Manuscript on vellum, 52cm x 95cm

Osher Collection