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Upside Down Africa by Ramusio

Nice example of Ramusio's (Mezzo Di) map of Africa (extending south to the Tropic of Capricorn and Madagascar).

Giovanni Baptista Ramusio was Secretary to the Council of Ten in Venice for 43 years. His collection of reports on voyages is among the most important works of the period.

This map appeared in the second volume of Ramusio's Della Navigationi et Viaggi, a 3 volume work that was commenced in 1554, although this map, from volume 2, was not completed until 1559.

The map shows North at the bottom of the map and is centered on the course of the Nile, which has its primary source in two lakes in Southern Africa. The map extends south to the Tropic of Capricorn and Isola Di S. Lorenzo (Madagascar). The Saudi Peninsula, Red Sea and Gulf of Aden are also shown, as is Mecca.

Curiously, the map is not referenced in either Tooley or Norwich.

Ramusio’s Navigationi et Viaggi

Ramusio, a Venetian civil servant, spent decades gathering images, accounts, and sources for a massive collection of travels and voyages. He wanted to update the geographic knowledge of antiquity, which was being challenged by European interactions with the Americas, Africa, and Asia. He especially wanted his work to be useful to mapmakers in updating their representations of the known world.

One of the larger printing projects of the sixteenth century, the collection eventually appeared in three volumes. They were published by Tommaso Giunti in Venice and only in a later edition, in 1563, was the author revealed to be Ramusio. The first volume was published in 1550 and held information about Africa, India, and the East Indies. The second was published in 1559 and discussed Russia, the Middle East, and Central Asia. The third volume, published before the second in 1556, held information about the Americas.

The second volume was delayed because of a large fire in Ramusio’s workshop in 1557; the flames ruined the volume’s woodblocks, forcing the second edition to be published two years later and with no maps. The maps that were included in the other volumes were most likely the work of Giacomo Gastaldi, who tutored Ramusio’s son. While the first volume had three maps and plans, and the second none due to the fire, the third volume had nine maps of the Americas, Africa, and the East Indies.

The work was an important milestone in publishing and each edition was reprinted several times: volume I in 1550, 1554 (with additions), 1563 (with an additional leaf mentioning Ramusio as author), 1588, 1606, and 1613; volume II in 1559, 1574 (with additions), 1583 (further additions), and 1606; and volume III in 1556, 1565 and 1606 (with additions). Only once, in 1606, were all three volumes reprinted in the same year.

Giovanni Battista Ramusio Biography

Giovanni Battista Ramusio (1485-1557) was an Italian geographer who worked within the Venetian Empire. His father had been a magistrate and he himself served as a civil servant to Venice. He served throughout Europe, allowing him to build up a network of informants and a collection of travel materials. He compiled this information into his enduring masterpiece, Navigationi et Viaggi, in 1550 (first volume) and 1556 (third volume). The second volume appeared after his death in 1559, as the original manuscript had been destroyed by a fire.