An Early Modern Mapping of Southeast Asia, China Sea and Philippine Islands
Girolamo Ruscelli's India Tercera Nuova Tavola is one of the earliest obtainable modern maps of the Philippines and Southeast Asia.
The map occupies a broad swath of Asia from the Bay of Bengal to southern China in the north, and down just below the Equator to the south. While not particularly accurate by modern standards, Gastaldi's efforts to map Southeast Asia were nevertheless a marked improvement on the Ptolemaic conceptions that hitherto appeared on printed maps that depicted the region.
The treatment of the Philippines, Java Major and Java Minor are noteworthy, both in their distorted size and perpetuation of mythical regions that began in medieval times.
The map is an enlarged version of Giacomo Gastaldi's miniature map of 1548, which was one of the earliest to introduce the Portuguese discoveries in the region. Ruscelli first published the map in his La Geographi di Claudio Tolomeo (Venice, 1561), with the present example being from the 1574 edition of the work. The incomparably well-connected Gastaldi was able to break Lisbon's policy of cartographic secrecy and gain access to early Portuguese manuscript charts of Southeast Asia. Shown prominently on the Malay Peninsula, in the center of the map, is Malacca, the base of operations established by Afonso de Albuquerque in 1511. From Malacca various Portuguese voyages set out to make the maiden European connections with various kingdoms.
Just to the west and south of Malacca one will notice 'Camatra' (Sumatra) and Java. Extending knowledge further, in 1512, Antonio de Abreu set out to explore Timor and Ambon (shown on the map), while his close associate Francisco Serrão reconnoitered the Moluccas. Looking further to the north, one will see "Lachina", the southern coasts of China, which were visited by Jorge Alvares in 1513.
India Tercera Nuova Tavola a truly fascinating map which represents the beginning of the modern mapping of Southeast Asia.
Girolamo Ruscelli (1500-1566) was a cartographer, humanist, and scholar from Tuscany. Ruscelli was a prominent writer and editor in his time, writing about a wide variety of topics including the works of Giovanni Boccaccio and Francesco Petrarch, Italian language, Italian poetry, medicine, alchemy, and militia. One of his most notable works was a translation of Ptolemy’s Geographia which was published posthumously.
There is limited information available about Ruscelli’s life. He was born in the Tuscan city of Viterbo to a family of modest means. He was educated at the University of Padua and moved between Rome and Naples until 1548, when he moved to Naples to work in a publishing house as a writer and proofreader. He remained in the city until his death in 1566.