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Stock# 93079

The Most Important Isolario of the First Half of the 16th Century

The First Printed Map of North America

Books of islands or Isolario were very popular in fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Italy. Several very early manuscript volumes are known, while the earliest printed Isolario was published c.1485 by Sonetti and consisted of 49 maps of islands in the Greek Archipelago. Bordone’s island book, which first appeared in 1528 and was the second printed Isolario, greatly expanded the subject matter as it attempted to chart the islands of the entire world. This book is particularly significant for its fine oval world map and for including “the first printed map specifically of North America” -- Suarez.

The maps in the present volume:

Four two-sheet maps:

  • Europe and Northern Africa (sig. BB)
  • Aegean islands (sig. CC)
  • Mappamundi, based on Francesco Rosselli's 1508 oval projection (sig. DD)
  • Venice (sig. F)

Full-sheet maps:

  • Diagram map showing the construction of a world map (BB1r)
  • Ptolemaic projection of Northern Europe (A3v)
  • Woodcut plan of Temistitan, i.e. Tenochtitlan (Mexico City) before the conquest (B4).

Four double-page woodcut maps printed in two blocks across gutter: 

  • Southern Italy including Sicily (D6v-E1r)
  • Crete (K2v-K3r)
  • Attica and Macedonia (M2v-M3r)
  • Cyprus (M6v-N1r)

The Important American map:

  • A quarter-page map of the Terra de Lavoratore, the first printed map of continental North America (A6v), showing the Azores and the fictitious islands Brasil and Asmaide.

The remainder of the maps are smaller woodcuts in the text, including the following:

  • A small map of Ciampagu (N2r), one of the earliest European representations of Japan.
  • Hispaniola (B6v)
  • Jamaica (C1r)
  • Cuba (C1v)
  • Dominica (C2r)
  • Guadalupe & Martinique (C2v)
  • Apocyrphal "Brasil" island (C6r)
  • Woodcut diagram describing the triangular form of Sicily (D4v).

Bordone's World Map

For many years, Bordone’s world map was thought to be the first map drawn on an oval projection, but it was actually based on the extremely rare map by Francesco Rosselli compiled c.1508. Unlike the Rosselli, Bordone’s map omits all Antarctic lands and separates the continents of Asia and America. The New World is represented with a continuous coastline, starting from a projecting peninsula labeled "Terra del laboratore," south to a land called "Mondo Novo", which is related to one of the other small maps in the volume (verso of fol. VI, see below):

Our impression is that, originally, the map was based upon one of the Lusitanian charts of the kind used by Waldseemüller; and that, afterwards, Bordone altered it from a map somewhat similar to the model followed by Maggiolo in 1527 - Harrisse.

The lines crossing the map represent six wind directions, which are named in scripted text outside the map’s edge. Because the Rosselli map is so rare, this map by Bordone is the earliest obtainable map to use an oval projection. “In his world map Bordone has essentially provided an outline, with graceful italic script and numerals on each of the islands, providing a reference for the more detailed maps to follow” -- Shirley.

First Printed Map of North America

Of great interest herein is the small, unassuming woodblock map on the verso of folio VI (A6v), which has the distinction of being the first printed map of the North American continent. The map bears the words Terra de Lavoratore, which come from El Lavrador, a nickname for a Portuguese-Azorean adventurer named João Fernandes. According to Suarez, “Fernandes may have tried his luck at western voyages under the Portuguese flag as early as Columbus had under the Spanish flag.” While the woodblock lacks detail, Stretto p[ar]te del Mondo Novo depicts the area corresponding to the latitude of the Caribbean, and the land mass shown below it represents South America. The fictitious Atlantic islands of Brasil and Asmaide appear here alongside the Azores, as they did on other maps of the period.

Bordone’s volume also contains a plan of Temistitan or Mexico City before its destruction by Cortez. Manuel Toussaint has pointed out how Bordone's Mexico City plan differs from the map attributed to Cortez, with orientation rotated so that north is to the left, rather than to the right.

This examples contains, on the last two leaves, the Copia della lettre del profetto della India la Nova Spagna, which gives the earliest printed account of the conquest of Peru by Pizarro in 1533.


Nice complete examples of Bordone with all of the maps present and in such nice condition are increasingly scarce in the market.

Condition Description
Small folio in 2's, 4's and 6's. Early 20th-century half vellum and marbled boards. Binding edges rubbed. Armorial bookplate of Robert Walsingham Martin and another bookplate. Small leather book label of Frederick Spiegelberg. Some leaves strengthened at hinge. Title page border and two maps trimmed quite close (slighting affecting printed area). [10], 74 leaves, comprising: title page printed in red and black with woodcut border, 112 woodcut maps and cityscapes (8 of which double-page and 3 full-page). Complete. The 4 larger double-page maps are Europe and North Africa; the Aegean; the world; and a plan of Venice; 4 smaller double-page maps (Sicily, Crete, Euboea, and Cyprus); full-page plan of 'Temistitan' (Mexico City) the rest all woodcuts in the text. Internally fresh and crisp. Very occasional fox mark. Very good.
European Americana 534/2. Burden North America 8. Shirley World 59. Adams B-2485. Ahmanson-Murphy IIIa:335. Harrisse 178. JCB (3) I:122. Mortimer Italian 82. Phillips Atlases 163. Sabin 6419. Toussaint, Planos de la Ciudad de Mexico, Siglos XVI y XVII, page 101.
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.

Bordone, a prominent Venetian manuscript editor, miniaturist, and cartographer, was born in Padua, a city that was then part of the Republic of Venice. Although his exact date of birth remains unknown, historical records indicate that his parents married in Padua in 1442, and he himself was married in 1480. Bordone's contributions to the field of cartography, particularly through his seminal work, Isolario, have cemented his legacy as a pivotal figure in the Renaissance cartographic tradition.

Bordone's most renowned work, Isolario (The Book of Islands), printed in Venice in 1528, is a comprehensive compilation that describes all the known islands of the world. The book offers detailed accounts of each island's folklore, myths, cultures, climates, geographical situations, and historical narratives. It stands as a testament to the popularity of the isolario genre in 15th and 16th century Italy and serves as an illustrated guide for sailors, incorporating the era's latest transatlantic discoveries.

One of the notable features of Isolario is an oval depiction of the world, a map type invented by Bordone. This innovation was later formalized into the equal-area elliptical Mollweide projection three centuries afterward. Bordone's map portrays a distorted view of the New World, showing only the northern regions of South America and depicting North America as a large island labeled Terra del Laboratore (Land of the Worker), a likely reference to the region's active slave trade during that period, which also influenced the name Labrador.

The book also contains the earliest known printed account of Francisco Pizarro's conquest of Peru, making it a significant historical document. Among the numerous woodcut maps included in Isolario, twelve are dedicated to the Americas. These maps feature a plan of "Temistitan" (Tenochtitlan, modern Mexico City) before its destruction by Hernán Cortés, and a map of Ciampagu, the earliest known European-printed map of Japan depicted as an island.

Benedetto Bordone's familial connections are also of interest; he is reputed to have been the father of Julius Caesar Scaliger, a noted classical scholar, and the grandfather of Joseph Justus Scaliger, who is recognized as the founder of the science of historical chronology. The original maps from Bordone's Isolario are highly valued today for their historical significance and intricate craftsmanship. Through his work, Bordone has left an indelible mark on the history of cartography, providing invaluable insights into the geographical knowledge and cultural perceptions of his time.