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Second Earliest World Map on an Oval Projection – One of the Earliest Obtainable Maps to Show America – Earliest Obtainable World Map to Appear in an Isolario

Bordone’s important early woodcut map of the world—the first world map to appear in an "Isolario", or book of islands, and the second earliest map published on an oval projection.

Bordone's world map, one of few pre-Münster world maps that is reasonably obtainable for collectors, was responsible for popularizing the oval projection. It is preceded in use of the projection only by the separately-published map of Francesco Rosselli (ca. 1508), which is known in only a few examples. Bordone's was the first widely disseminated map to employ this projection and was later followed by a number of major mapmakers, including Grynaeus (1532), Münster (1540), Gastaldi (1546), a number of Lafreri maps, and Ortelius (1570/1587).

Bordone's map is similar to the Rosselli map of ca. 1508, but he significantly separates Asia and America. The Americas, still a recent addition to maps of the era, appears idiosyncratic to modern eyes. Bordonne has included “terra de laboratore”, or Labrador, referencing the Portuguese explorer who encountered the land in 1500, João Fernandes Lavrador. The two continents are connected by a thin isthmus, which had been seen by the Spanish, and a globular South America is labeled as “modo novo”, or new world.

Also different than Rosselli, Bordone has omitted all traces of a southern continent, an unusually bold choice for a mapmaker at this time. Many contemporaries included a large southern continent on maps, as they hypothesized that a huge southern landmass was necessary to counter-balance the sizeable continents in the northern hemisphere.

Bordone’s map depicts a modern Africa, but a Ptolemaic India and Ceylon (Sri Lanka). This reflects the period in which the map was made, a time of transition and flux between the received wisdom of Ptolemy and the new geographic knowledge shared by navigators. Japan is shown as it is described in Marco Polo’s travel account, revealing another source for this map.

As this map was intended as an index map for an atlas focused on islands, there is little inland detail. The only terrestrial geographic entities drawn in are the Himalayas, which loom large in southern Asia, and the Mountain of the Moon in Africa. Typically, mapmakers thought the Nile River rose from twin lakes south of the equator, which were near the Mountains of the Moon. Streams from the mountains fed the lakes. Ptolemy describes such a lakes-and -mountains layout in his works, although the precise identification of the Mountains of the Moon may have been a fourth century addition to his text.

In addition to the Nile, the Indus and Ganges Rivers are labeled, but they are reversed in location. On the many islands of the world, italic letters and numbers indicate that these features will be discussed in greater length in the text that follows.

The lines crossing the map represent six wind directions, which are named in scripted text outside the map’s oval.

Publication of this map and Isolarios

Benedetto Bordone was originally granted a privilege by the Venetian authorities to print his world map as early as 1508. However, none of his work is known prior to 1528. Bordone's map appeared in his Libro di Benedetto Bordone ... de tutte l'Isole del mondo, first published in Venice in 1528. This Isolario would go on to become one of the most commercially successful and influential geographical works of the first part of the sixteenth century.  

Books of islands or Isolario were very popular in the early modern period, especially in Italy. Several early manuscript volumes are known. The earliest printed Isolario was published in ca. 1485 by Sonetti and included 49 maps of the Greek islands.

Bordone’s island book was the second printed Isolario. It greatly expanded the subject matter as it attempted to chart the islands of the entire world. As such, this important early map of the world is indicative of a larger genre of geographic texts and carries important information about sources and geographic theories of the early sixteenth century.  

Shirley (1983), map 59. KAP
Benedetto Bordone Biography

Benedetto Bordone (1460-1531) was a polymath who was born in Padua and worked in Venice. He was an illuminator, engraver, miniaturist, editor, and geographer. It is possible he made the first globe in Italy. His most famous work is the Isolario, or Book of Islands, which included many of the earliest printed maps of islands in the New World.