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A Landmark in the History of the Atlas

Atlas. PTOLEMY, C./GASTALDI, Giacomo, ed. [Venice, 1548 ]
La Geografia, con alcuni comenti & aggiunte fattevi da Sebastiano Munstero, con le tavole non solamente antiche & moderne solite di sta(m)parsi, ma altre nuovo aggiuntevi di Jacopo Gastaldo, ridotta in volgare Italiano da Pietro Andrea Mattiolo. 8vo. [17.3 x 11 cm]
[Colophon: N. Bascarini, 1547]. (8), 214 ff., including woodcut title 8 woodcuts in text, 1 ¾ page of an astronomer, (2) ff. [register/colophon and integral blank at DD8], 184 ff., including 60 double-page engraved maps. Bound in contemporary flexible vellum, resewn, with title inked on spine. Early ownership inscriptions on front pastedown (dated 1562), title and f.[2]. Ink highlighting on title, lower corner restored with imprint just cropped; “Tabula Europa IIII” soiled in lower corner; else excellent with map generally wide-margined and with strong impressions.


Sole edition. Discounting the La Freri atlas factices, this was the most important atlas published between Waldseemuller''''s 1513 edition of Ptolemy and Ortelius'''' Theatrum of 1570. The litany of “firsts” attached to the Gastaldi’s atlas is truly impressive. It was the first small-scale atlas, and related to this, it was at once the first printed atlas in Italian and the first in a vernacular language of any kind. Further, Nordenskiold called it "the very first atlas of the New World," because it was the earliest to contain a series of separate maps of parts of North and South America.

Nordenskiold also noted that with this atlas "copper-engraving was reintroduced into the service of cartography," as it was the first atlas in the 16th century to use this process (excluding the later editions of the 1478 Rome Ptolemy). A number of maps were copper-engraved in the 15th century, but this method fell into disuse in the first half of the sixteenth century until this remarkable volume appeared. One might add that this atlas also demonstrated the special appeal of maps in miniature when well-engraved. Finely executed atlases in small format would become in the latter part of 16th century something of a sub-specialty of Italian map publishers. Not only would there be numerous world atlases in smaller format, but also isolarios and city atlases as well.

Everywhere in this atlas are indications of Gastaldi''''s effort to use the freshest information available. The legendary “Tierra Nueva” map of the North American coast from Florida to Labrador is considered the earliest, acquirable map to focus on the East Coast of North America. It was also one of the earliest printed maps to reflect both Verrazano’s and Cartier''''s explorations. One of the two world maps in the atlas, the “Universale Novo,” is a reduction of an extremely rare map published just two years earlier that Tooley described as "one of the most important maps of the sixteenth century." Borri provides a thorough analysis of both general maps of Italy, noting the extent to which they depart from previous models. Elsewhere, Gole described “Calecut Nova Tavola” as “the first separate map of the Indian peninsula—one of the new maps added to Gastaldi’s edition of Ptolemy in 1548.”

Although only one edition of this atlas is known, it in fact enjoyed a long publication life through a somewhat enlarged edition first published by G. Ruscelli in 1561. In this form, the atlas was re-issued five more times by various publishers through end of the century.

Adams P-2234; Mortimer, Italian 404; Harrisse BAV 285; Streeter I.17; Phillips 369; Nordenskiöld 28; Karrow, Mapmakers of the 16th century, pp. 220ff; Burden 16 & 17; Shirley 87, 88, cf. 85; Borri 31, 32; Gole, S. India Within the Ganges, p. 47.

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