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One of the Earliest Printed Representations of the Island of Hispaniola

Fine example of Bordone's map of “Spagnola,” better known as Hispaniola. It is from his important Isolario and is one of the earliest printed maps of any portion of the New World.

The map is an inset and is centered within the inset. The compass rose interestingly is drawn through and around the island, with north at the top and Greek letters and symbols indicating the other directions.

The island itself is labeled “Spagnola”. Mountains and streams are indicated in the interior, as is the settlement of Isabella, which was founded by Christopher Columbus on his second voyage. Buildings are scattered throughout the island, suggesting that Europeans had already spread their influence and culture.

The Isolario

The map appeared in Benedetto Bordone’s influential atlas of islands, the Isolario. It is also an early, important work in that it covers the modern world with little cartographic reference to Ptolemy’s influence. The Isolario was also one of the first atlases to include numerous maps of the New World, with many high-resolution maps of Caribbean islands and South American regions. This map, for example, is one of the earliest printed maps of the island of Hispaniola.

The Isolario was first published in Venice in 1528 by Nicolo d’Aristotile detto Zoppino under the title of Libro di Benedetto Bordone nel qual si ragiona de tutte l’isole del mondo. The second edition of 1534, also published by Zoppino, was when the book was named the Isolario di Benedetto Bordone nel qual si ragiona de tuttte l’isole del mondo. It is the most prominent example of what was a popular genre in Italy in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

Each island was described extensively and accompanied by a map. Hispaniola’s description explained the appearance of the island and Columbus’ influence. Other islands, like the mythical island of Brazil, detailed places that never actually existed.

The Isolario was an important milestone in geographic publishing and the map of Hispaniola, then the most important island in the Caribbean, is a significant document in the island’s cartographic history.

Anastasia Stouraiti, “Talk, Script and Print: The Making of Island Books in Early Modern Venice”, Historical Research 86, no. 232 (2013): 207-229.
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.