Tabula Europae IIII, produced in Venice in 1561, offers an intriguing snapshot of Germany, Denmark, and the Baltic region as interpreted through the Ptolemaic worldview. Girolamo Ruscelli's map stands as an artifact of the Renaissance's revitalization of ancient geographical knowledge, presenting these northern territories with the fidelity of Ptolemy's Second Century insights.
This map is not merely a depiction of political boundaries or geographical landscapes; it also brings to life the fauna of the regions it represents. Renderings of bisons, the celebrated aurochs (urus), and the alces (likely an elk or moose) animate the territories, adding a layer of natural history to the cartographic delineation. These animals, native to the regions, reveal the biodiversity of Northern Europe during this period and exemplify the cartographer's intent to document the natural world as well as the man-made.
Of particular note is the inclusion of a bird with a curious annotation: "Pennae huius auis noctu emicant." Translated from Latin, this means, "The feathers of this bird shine at night." This intriguing detail introduces an element of the fantastic and unknown into an otherwise scholarly and factual cartographic work.
Tabula Europae IIII is not merely a record of territories, but a fusion of geography, natural history, and cultural understanding from the Renaissance period. Ruscelli's map thus serves as a meaningful testament to the diverse interests and expansive knowledge of the period's scholars, as they sought to reconcile classical knowledge with the evolving understanding of the world.
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.