Nicolosi's Landmark Map of Africa
Fine example of the first state of Nicolosi's important four sheet map of Africa.
This spectacular four-sheet map of Africa was produced by Italian geographer and map-maker Giovanni Battista Nicolosi on a commission from the Vatican. Published in Nicolosi’s seminal atlas Dell’ Ercole e Studio Geografico, the map tells the story of Europe on the cusp of an age of incredible and aggressive expansion. It is both one of the first post-Renaissance maps of Africa to be produced in the Italian schools of cartography, and the first map of Africa to use the landmark Nicolosi Globular Projection.
Following the tradition of Italian mapmakers of the 16th century, such as Ramusio and Bertelli, Nicolosi oriented his map with Southern Africa aligned at the top. The main source for this map appears to be Nicolas Sanson's map of Africa of 1650. However, Nicolosi's map of Africa is more conservative than Sanson's map, with relatively limited nomenclature, especially in the first state.
Nicolosi does show a lake in Abyssinia which may be a pre-cursor to Lake Tana, the source for the Blue Nile River, likely from the Portuguese travel accounts. What is unusual is that Nicolosi does not generally fill the map with placenames and geographic features based on other various travel accounts on Africa and from the prevailing information of his time. This information was available to him, yet he chose to not include it on his map. More details and placenames are added to the second state of this map, albeit cautiously so.
Giovanni Battista Nicolosi (1610-1670) was a priest and cartographer for the Vatican's Propaganda Fide in Rome. In 1652, motivated by Sanson's new work, the Propoganda Fide of Rome commissioned Nicolosi to produce an atlas, which would become Nicolosi's Dell' Hercole e Studio Geografico, published in 1660 and 1671. The 4 sheet maps of the continents have become highly sought after by collectors, incorporating Nicolosi's meticulous work and novel presentation style.
Nicolosi was the first to employ the so-called pseudo-perspective projection in which the established meridians were perfected with the introduction of complimenting circular parallels. Over the next decades, and especially during the early 18th century, this projection technique – also known as the globular projection – became increasingly popular and was applied by seminal cartographers such as Guillaume de l’Isle and Aaron Arrowsmith. In the decades after Nicolosi’s death, the globular or Nicolosi projection replaced the stereographic projection popularized by Mercator, which had increasingly fallen into disuse by then. During the 19th century, the Nicolosi perspective became the standard cartographic projection technique and it even remains in use today.
Giovanni Battista Nicolosi (1610-1670), also known as Giovan Battista, was a Sicilian priest, geographer and cartographer, who worked for the Vatican's Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples (or Propaganda Fide) under Pope Gregory XV. Officially, the Fide office was established to promote missionary work across the globe, but the reality was that it constituted an important office for the maintenance and dilation of the Church’s power in an ever-expanding world.
Arriving in the papal capital around 1640, Nicolosi devoted himself to the study of letters, sciences, geography and languages. In 1642, he published his Theory of the Terrestrial Globe, a small treatise on mathematical geography, and, a few years later, his guide to geographic study, which was a short treatise on cosmography and cartography. Both works reflected a Ptolemaic world view, but his guide to geographic study would soon serve as an introduction to Nicolosi’s real magnum opus, Dell' Ercole e Studio Geografico, which was first published in 1660. His Theory of the Terrestrial Globe, on the other hand, brought Nicolosi to the attention of broader scientific circles and earned him the Chair in Geography at the University of Rome.
In late 1645, Nicolosi travelled to Germany at the invitation of Ferdinand Maximilian of Baden-Baden, where he remained for several years until returning to Rome. Here, Nicolosi was appointed chaplain of the Borghesiana in the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore. This honor was conferred on him by Prince Giovanni Battista Borghese, who Nicolosi himself had tutored and in whose palace he had lived since 1651. Years later, Nicolosi would thank the prince for his generosity by dedicating his most seminal work to him.
One of Nicolosi's most significant contributions to the history of science and geography is the so-called map of the world on a globular projection. First published in 1660, Nicolosi's map of the world, produced ny the Vatican, constituted a pioneering innovation in the way in which the physical world was portrayed. This entirely new perspective on geography was groundbreaking and quickly adapted across the cartographic plane. It has consequently come to be known as the ‘Nicolosi projection’. In truth, Nicolosi's globular projection is a polyconic map projection invented by Abū Rayḥān Muḥammad ibn Aḥmad Al-Bīrūnī, the foremost Muslim scholar of the Islamic Golden Age, who invented the first recorded globular projection for use in celestial maps about the year 1000 CE. Nicolosi was almost certainly not awared of the work of Al-Bīrūnī, and Nicolosi's name it typically attributed to the projection.
There exists in the Vatican and other National archives a considerable collection of Nicolosi’s unpublished work. This includes a large chorographic (i.e. descriptive) map of all of Christendom, commissioned by Pope Alexander VII, as well as a full geographic description and map of the Kingdom of Naples, which was sent to Habsburg Emperor Leopold I in 1654.