MAURO, Fra (c. 1450)
Camadolese's World Map. Fra Mauro?s world map was drawn around 1450 in the Camaldolese Monastery of San Michele di Murano, a reformed Benedectine Order, placed on a small island in the lagoon between Venice and Murano. The map, currently at the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana in Venice, is painted in sumptuous colours, with a profusion of gold and azzurro, the latter a precious powdered azul pigment obtained through crushing lapis lazuli on various assembled sheets of parchment glued and nailed onto wood tables reinforced by horizontal lozenges.
Very little is known about Fra Mauro?s biography. He spent his life in between Venice and Murano as a lay brother attached to the Monastery of San Michele and documentary evidences show that he was active between 1409 and ca 1459. He is credited the design of at least four monumental maps of the world, of which only one is extant (another map that can be attributed to him is currently in the Biblioteca Apostolica in the Vatican) and several scritture cosmografiche (cosmographic essays) which are lost.
His mappa mundi in the Biblioteca Marciana does not have a scale or direction lines, equator or tropics. Four winds (Auster, North wind, Gregale, East wind) are positioned at the margins of the circumference indicating the four cardinal points. The work is placed in a square wooden frame that measures 223 cm a side and contains a circular frame with a diameter of 196 cm on the horizontal axis and 193 cm on the vertical axis. The two frames delimit two precise spaces: the oikumene (the known and inhabitable part of the earth) within the circular space is represented as a chorography with numerous designs and legends and the space that I define as cosmographical, in the four angles delimited by the intersection of the two frames, represents the Ptolemaic- Aristotelian sublunar and celestial worlds and describes their fundamental properties in seven long cartouches, three diagrams and the illumination of the earthly paradise.
Often filed away as a ?monument? to medieval cosmography, an antiquated compendium of knowledge that Renaissance and European expansion was already rendering obsolete, Fra Mauro?s mappamundi looks very different when one considers it on the basis of contemporary documents, which reveal that to fifteenth- and sixteenth-century eyes it was much more than a mere synthesis of out-dated cosmography. Furthermore, the history of the work and the variety of readings given of it are a clear indication that over the centuries interest in it has continued.
Fra Mauro?s monumental effort is an extraordinarily rich and ecumenical synthesis of different languages, namely, the classic Medieval mappaemundi combination of drawings and inscriptions, the nautical cartography graphic syntax, and the Ptolemaic outline for far Eastern coasts. Behind the mappamundi the presence of at least three processes can be easily recognised: the development of long-distance networks of knowledge; the foundation of a capitalist worldeconomy with Venice as one of its centres; and finally, the increase in geographica exploration and the mental opening of space and sea before regarded as not accessible to man.
Settling our gaze on the mappamundi the macrostructure gives way to a world that is minutely detailed with numerous designs and legends. As to its textual contents, Fra Mauro?s text is made of some 3.000 inscriptions, with some 165.000 characters. Of these, some 200 ? the rest being single place-names ? make up the largest fifteenth century cosmographical treatise in the Venetian vernacular. These textual units, in particular the most lengthy, constitute a work unto themselves, almost separate from the world map. The questions of natural philosophy treated in the legends of the mappamundi can be subdivided and regrouped in four principle thematic units: 1) The structure and dimensions of the celestial world; 2) The dimensions and structural properties of the sublunar world; 3) The form, extension and navigability of the seas; 4) The earthly paradise as a part of cosmographic space.
In the cosmographic part of the map, Fra Mauro collects, translates and, more significantly, gives original form to the cosmographic knowledge transmitted in Latin by many authors of Medieval and Renaissance cosmology and cosmography. His cosmos is a composed synthesis built on the cosmological concepts of Aristotle and Ptolemy?s natural philosophy, mainly assimilated through the interpretations put forth in the The Sphere (or De sphaera) of John of Holywood 2 (Johannes de Sacrobosco) and the natural philosophy works of Albert the Great, Thomas Aquinas and John Buridan.
For the design of the circular map of the world, Fra Mauro relied extensively on travel accounts and on the testimony of contemporary travellers. In the mappa mundi there are five main area of direct and explicit derivatioin of travel accounts: Northern Europe, particularly the Scandinavian peninsula, one of the most innovative representations of the fifteenth century; the western coasts of Africa; the Ethiopian region, or ?from the province of Sayto (Asyut, in Egypt) upwards? (da Sayto in suso, in Fra Mauro?s words; the region in the proximity of the Caspian Sea; finally the Indian Ocean and Asia regions. The representation of each of these areas is based on the reading and re-elaboration of specific travel narratives.
In the design of Northern Europe, for Fra Mauro?s explicit citation, it is important to
remember the account of the shipwreck off of the Norweigen coasts of Piero Querini, a Venetian patrician and merchant who shipwrecked off the Lofoten islands in 1432.
Toponyms Cavo verde and Cavo rosso to be found on the Atlantic coast of Africa shows that for the design of the western coast of Africa Fra Mauro wasmaking indirect use of Portuguese sources. These toponyms began to figure in Western ? and particularly, Venetian ? geography after the voyages alon the African coast of the Portuguese pilot Aires Gomnes da Silva e Fernandes in 1444 and 1446. This is proved by the fact that both names appear in the nautical map drawn in London in 1448 by the Venetian Andrea Bianco ? a work that is perhaps closest to the mappamundi?s account of Africa and can plausibly be listed as a possible source (A. BIANCO, Carta nautica, London, 1448, Milan, Biblioteca Ambrosiana, F. 260, inf. (1). As for contact between the two cartographers, that is beyond doubt: we know that Bianco worked on the preparation of Fra Mauro?s mappa mundi commisioned by the Portuguese court of Afonso V in 1457.
For the Ethiopian regions, Fra Mauro did for sure draw on first hand sources. Place names and, in general, the design of the these regions were drawn thanks to the fundamental contribution of several clerics of the Ethiopian and Coptic Churches, who had reached Venice around 1440-41 on their way to Rome on the occasion of the Council of Florence (Pope Eugene IV had invited them to Rome in order to make an agreement on the ecumenical union, by sending to them the Franciscan
legate Albert of Sarteano to Egypt). At this regard, this is what Fra Mauro wrote in one of the best known cartouches of the map:
Because to some it will appear as a novelty that I should speak of these southern parts, which were almost unknown to the Ancients, I will reply that this entire drawing, from Sayto upwards, I have had from those who were born there. These people are clerics who, with their own hands, drew for me these provinces and cities and rivers and mountains with their names; all these things I have not been able to put in due order for lack of space.
Recent archeological research in Ethiopa confirms the historical value of Fra Mauro?s depiction of this region, showing the direct use of information that were not available in other coeval documents.
Regarding instead the representation of the regions near the Caspian Sea, the mappa mundi transmits some important geographical innovations that were diffused in the West following the travels in central Asia of León Rui González de Clavijo (? 1412). Chamberlain of King Henry III of Castile, in 1403 Clavijo was invited as ambassador of Samarkand and Buckara to the court of Tamerlane, in the end returning to Spain in 1406. Clavijo described the long voyage and the history
and customs of the populations that lived in the Timurid Empire in a work entitled Embajada a Tamorlán (Embassy to Tamerlane). In the mappa mundi the representation of the kingdoms of Çagataï, Organça e Samargante, to the east of the Caspian Sea (therefore, central Asia, near the present day border between Afghanistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan) clearly demonstrates the geographical innovation transmitted by Embajada a Tamorlán.
As for the design of central and southern Asia and the enormous basin of the Indian Ocean, these parts of the mappa mundi offer a unique and monumental graphic and spacial representation of Marco Polo?s Milione as well as the Travel to India, the recounting of the voyage of Niccolò di 3 Conti by Poggio Bracciolini in Liber IV of De varietate fortunae (The Vicissitudes of Fortune), on the basis of a cartographic plan substantially of Ptolomaic derivation. Fra Mauro cited these accounts in three ways: by reporting place names, by adopting and translating into Venetian vernacular entire passages of both the Milione and The Travel to India, and finally, by an intricate process of visual transcription which modeled several of the anecdotal images filling the mappamundi on the testament of Polo and de? Conti. These illustrations are all to be regarded as the first attempt ever to provide a realistic visual representation of both Polo?s and Conti?s descriptions.
The analysis of Fra Mauro?s map reveals one of the most complete and complex reflections on the concept of ?sea? and ?ocean? in the crucial passage from the Middle Ages to early modernity. The close reading of the text and images that form the mappamundi allows us to identify five principle semantic levels that interact in the formulation of the concept ?sea? in the culture of the time: 1. The sea as an Aristotelian element within the so-called quaestio de aqua et terra in the context of natural philosophy; 2. The sea as an ecumenical space «habitable» by man; 3. The sea as a complex of commercial networks; 4. The sea as a metaphysical element representing the physical and metaphysical limits of space and human action; 5. Finally, the sea as both a tragic element and a narration.
[?] Fra Mauro?s mappa mundi for the Portuguese Court of Afonso V [?]
In 1457 Fra Mauro was commissioned to produce a mappamundi for the Portuguese court. The finished work was dispatched to Lisbon on 24 April 1459 in the safekeeping of the Venetian nobleman Stefano Trevisan. The record of a payment of 30 and three-quarters ducats for aos pointores que pyntaram o mapa mundo em Veneza figures in the 1462 Carta de quitação from Alphonse V to his ambassador João Fernandes da Silveira, thus confirming the mappamundi?s arrival. Traditionally, this episode is seen as marking a transference of maritime supremacy from Venice to Portugal, and there is no doubt that the ?encounter? between Fra Mauro and Alfonso V is an important moment not only in the history of European expansion but also in the history of cartography. However, the reasons for the commission and the cultural context within which it is to be seen have yet to be fully analysed.
In effect, the mappamundi not only exemplifies the commercial links which existed between Portugal and the cities of Italy; it is also to be understood in terms of the diplomatic and cultural policies pursued during the reign of Alfonso V (1448-1481), a period of Portuguese expansion towards Africa and the south-west Atlantic.
This was a period when substantial quantities of goods were being shipped to Lagos and Lisbon by merchant companies in Florence, Venice, Bologna, Genoa and several other Italian cities ? in part due to the fiscal privileges that the Portuguese crown had granted fleets which put into the nation?s ports during their voyages northwards to England and Flanders. Four main categories of commodities were involved in the trade with Portugal: textiles, primarily wool cloth (from Florence), silk (from Florence and Lucca) and brocade and taffeta (from Bologna); manufactured goods, such as weapons (from the valleys of the Brescia and Bergamo areas) and paper (from Fabriano and Colle Val d?Elsa); art products, such as illuminated manuscripts, paintings and quality furnishings; and, finally, codices or books on all sorts of subjects (mainly from the printshops of Florence, Venice and Bologna).
The existence of such trade links also led to an interchange of knowledge and learning, with cosmography being one of the key subjects of interest. This can be seen, for example, by the fact that just two years after the commission of the mappamundi.
All of the above-cited documents bear witness to a ready circulation of cosmographical knowledge in the Early Modern period, and cast light on the cultural and political context of the commission to Fra Mauro. Perhaps one might even see such exchanges as starting when Venice sent a Latin translation of Marco Polo?s Milione to the Portuguese infante, Dom Pedro (1392-1449), after his visit to the city from 5 to 22 April 1428. Thereafter, the main actors in this traffic of ideas
4 would be Italian merchants and Portuguese clerics and diplomats who had links with humanist circles in Florence and Venice.
As far as politics is concerned, 1456 was the year in which Portugal seemed about to participate in a crusade against the Turks issued by pope Callixtus III. In response to the call to all Christendom, the Portuguese ambassador João Fernades da Silviera (ca1420-1484), Head Chancellor to Alphonse V, was that year sent on mission to Rome, Milan and Venice to negotiate and provide a diplomatic permission for the Portuguese subjects who had eventually entered the territories of the Venetian Republic or the Duchy of Milan. And there is little doubt that the commission for the mappamundi, recorded in the San Michele Libro di entrata e uscita on 8 February 1457 with specific reference to la Maiestad del Segnor di Portogallo, was received during this embassy since, as we have seen, records of the payment appeared in the 1462 Carta de quitação from Alphonse V to João da Silveira?s expenses for the mission to Italy. Contemporary documents in Portugal reveal 1439-1445 to be a period in which, with the funding of private capital, the Portuguese crown launched a determined policy of expansionism in the Atlantic in response to two important recent crises: the defeat of Portugal?s 1437 attempt to conquer Tangiers, and the internecine strife arising from the struggle for the throne between Alfonso V and Dom Pedro (which had ended with the former?s victory at the 1449 battle of Alfarrobeira).
From 1457 onwards the Crown would play an active role in the descobrimentos of the African coast, encouraging private involvement through a system of donatarias (the assignation of Atlantic territories to those who financed and led the fleets that discovered them). This system, used for the colonisation of Madeira and the Azores, enabled Alfonso to significantly extend his sovereignty in the western and southern Atlantic without having to invest the State?s resources and yet keeping control of trade: whilst the price of spices and the duties levied upon them were fixed by Casa da Guiné (significantly relocated from Lagos to Lisbon on 4 July 1463), there were also fiscal exemptions for merchandise shipped from or to the islands of the Atlantic and the new African possessions. In this way, Alphonse aimed to establish the maritime hegemony of the Portuguese crown in the rich regions of tropical Africa, implementing an expansionist policy that was also predicated on the ?rationalised? incorporation of trade flowing northwards to England and Flanders and southwards to the coasts of Africa. One key part of Portuguese strategy for the defence of its African and Atlantic interests involved the Papacy. Portuguese willingness to take part in Callixtus III?s crusade is to be seen as a response to Nicholas V?s famous papal bull Romanus Pontifex, which allowed Portugal exclusive rights in the conquest and exploitation of all lands from Cape Bojador to India, prohibiting any other nation from sending ships into this area, upon pain of excommunication. Dated 8 January 1455, the bull granted the Portuguese a number of important privileges, in effect recognising them as the ?agents? of the Church of Rome in Atlantic Africa and the East.
The following year, Callixtus III issued another bull, Inter caetera divinae, which not only confirmed the privileges granted by his predecessor but also recognised that the ?Order of Christ?, led by the Portuguese prince Enrique, had spiritual jurisdiction over all conquered lands from Cape Bojador to the ?Indies?. Declared nullius diocesis, this territory was to be the preserve of the Order, which would be responsible for benefices and for the administration of secular and regular clergy.
These two papal bulls thus give expression to the ideological basis upon which Alfonso V predicated his policy of expansion, seeing it as an advance of Christianity adversus Turcos; the notion is constantly reiterated in the letters that passed between the Portuguese court, the Signoria of Florence and the Republic of Venice in the years 1456-57.
In a sense, therefore, Fra Mauro?s mappamundi and the links with Toscanelli in Florence were, in the sphere of cosmography, what papal bulls and letters were in the sphere of international diplomacy: they attempted to update and define perceptions of the immense continent of Africa, which was of interest to Europeans not only as a source of slaves but also because it was home to 5 the legendary Prester John. This latter ? described in the mappamundi as having più de 120 regni
soto el suo dominio - was obviously a very attractive ally against the Moors.
By the middle of the fifteenth century, the world of letters was beginning to make reference to the geographical discoveries being made. In his Horologium Fidei, drawn up around 1448, the Portuguese Franciscan, Frei André do Prado, praised Prince Enrique?s love of knowledge of the natural world: by exploring the marvellous works of God, he was in fact revealing what had previously been hidden from mankind. In those very years, Poggio Bracciolini (1380-1459) sent the Infante Dom Enrique a letter praising his exploits as greater than those of Alexander or Caesar, exhorting him to continue not only in his struggle against heretics and the infidel but also to continue ?the exploration of tempestuous seas, unknown lands and fierce and savage peoples,? which none before him had dared to undertake.
After the conquest of Ceuta in 1415, Prince Henry had limited himself to a mixture of piracy and trade along the African coast; though the Prince Regent, Pedro, did subsequently maintain more consistent support for action in the area. Real investment of resources in the political and commercial expansion eastwards would, however, only come under Alphonse V. And whilst the political linchpin of this policy was Church backing, cultural interchange could be said to have provided the cultural justification ? one very special expression of which was Fra Mauro?s map.
ALMAGIÀ, Roberto, ?Carta nautica con elementi corografici di Anonimo Veneziano (1450 circa). [laboratorio di Fra Mauro Camaldolese a S. Michele di Murano],? in Monumenta Cartographica Vaticana, Città del Vaticano, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, 1944, I, pp. 32-39.
CABY, Cècile, De l?érémitisme rural au monachisme urbain. Les Camaldules en Italie à la fin du Moyen Âge, Rome, École Française de Rome, 1999.
CATTANEO, Angelo, ?Fra Mauro Cosmographus Incomparabilis and His Mappamundi:
Documents, Sources, and Protocols for Mapping,? in La cartografia europea tra primo Rinascimento e fine dell?Illuminismo, Florence, Olschki, 2003, pp. 19-48.
IDEM, La mappamundi di Fra Mauro camaldolese. Venezia, 1450, PhD Dissertation, Firenze, European University Institute, 2005 (in the press for Turnhout, Brepols, 2009).
IDEM, Scritture di viaggio e scrittura cartografica. La mappamundi di Fra Mauro e i racconti di Marco Polo e Niccolò de? Conti, «Itineraria» III-IV, 2005 (b), pp. 157-202.
FALCHETTA, Piero, Fra Mauro's World Map, Turnhout, Brepols, 2006.
GASPARRINI LEPORACE, Tullia (ed.), Il Mappamondo di Fra Mauro camaldolese, con la
presentazione di R. Almagià, Rome, Poligrafico della Zecca dello Stato, 1956.
IWANCZAK, Wojciech, ?Entre l?espace ptolémaïque et l?empirie: les cartes de fra Mauro,? Médiévales 18 (1990), pp. 53-68.
WINTER, Henry, ?The Fra Mauro Portolan Chart in the Vatican,? Imago Mundi 16 (1962), pp.17-28.
ZURLA, Placido, Il mappamondo di Fra Mauro camaldolese descritto ed illustrato da D. Placido Zurla dello stess'ordine, Venice, s.e., 1806.
Autor: Angelo Cattaneo