GERMANUS, Henricus Martellus, (c. 1459?96)
Alias Arrigo di Federico Martello. One of the most important cartographers of the end of the fifteenth century. Recent researches on the German community that was active in Florence during the fifteenth century have identified Henricus Martellus as Arrigo di Federico Martello, the ?famulus? or servant of an important Florentine family, the Martelli. Almost certainly from Nuremberg, he was active in Florence at least as early as 1459 until 1496. Both a cartographer and the translator into German of the Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio, Martello was attached to Nicolaus Germanus (Niccolò Germano), publisher of at least three recensions of Ptolemy?s Geography, whose intellectual legacy he inherited. In Florence, in the last decades of the fifteenth century, Henricus Martellus Germanus worked in collaboration with the most refined illuminators and copyist, such as Gherardo and Monte di Giovanni, and Niccolò Mangona,
designing the maps for manuscript editions of Ptolemy?s Geography (ca 1480-1496) and a work on universal geography entitled Insularium Illustratum (ca 1490).
Despite the fact that there are very few archival documents extant about his life, his manuscript codices and maps allows us to trace a rich cultural and intellectual history of Martellus.
His codices and maps represent the ultimate realization of a long process of recovering and renovating the geographical knowledge of the ancients that dated back to the humanist culture of the second half of the fourteenth century, especially in Florence, and to its most important protagonists, Francesco Petrarch and Giovanni Boccaccio, Paolo Dagomari, Coluccio Salutati, Leonardo Bruni, Niccolò Niccoli, Carlo Marsuppini, among others. In particular, they are the result of more than a century of research intended to both reconstruct and update as faithfully as possible the Geography (Geographiké Uphégesis, or?Guide to Cartography?) of the Alexandrian scientist Claudius Ptolemy (second century c.e.), which was translated into Latin at the beginning of the fifteenth century under the title Cosmographia, later Geographia.
At this respect, three extant copies of the Ptolemaic planisphere that he designed in 1490 ? that means only a couple of years after Bartolomeu Dias?s navigation to the southernmost tip of Africa ? for the Insularium Illustratum clearly show these two processes.
The scaled planispheres change and expand the planispheres in Ptolemy?s Geography, adding knowledge gained from Diogo Cão?s and Bartolomeo Dias?s voyages along the western coast of Africa between 1480 and 1488. Martellus? planispheres are the oldest cartographic depiction of the African coast from the Congo to the Cape of Torments, which upon Dias?s return to Lisbon was renamed the Cape of Good Hope. (It is recorded on the planisphere in the Insularium as cavo de esperanza [cape of hope] at the southernmost point of Africa, as though it is flowing out of the frame.) A printed version of the planisphere, a splendid copperplate engraving by the miniaturist, engraver, and cartographer Francesco Rosselli (?the Florentine?), is evidence that information about the Portuguese discoveries was disseminated to a much wider public than just the people concerned with the circulation of manuscripts.
Cartographers like Henricus Martellus and many others who followed, including
Bernardo Silvano from Eboli (active in Padua and Venice in the first decades of the sixteenth century), Martin Waldseemüller (ca 1475?1522), Sebastian Münster (1488?1552), Jacopo Gastaldi (beginning of the sixteenth century?after 1565), Gerard Mercator (1512?1594) and Abraham Ortelius (1527?1598), tacitly corrected inaccuracies and mistakes that became more evident thanks to concrete experimentation. And yet, even though they were aware that the Mediterranean Sea, European regions and Asia Minor did not have the cartographic shape that Ptolemy gave them and that the Portuguese discoveries had revealed that Africa was circumnavigable and the Indian Ocean an open sea, Renaissance cosmographers continued to 2 reproduce the ancient Ptolemaic maps as testimony to Hellenistic culture, which was considered the most advanced in the history of civilization. In addition, the modern cartographers did not yet have a means for creating an overall representation of Earth with the same degree of coherence and systematic nature of the ancient Ptolemaic method. In spite of its evident inadequacies, Ptolemaic cartography was the only valid system for representing the entire known world.
Renaissance cosmographers like Martellus adapted the Ptolemaic system to a world that grew and changed with the process of European expansion, becoming filled with particulars and real measurements. The new geography was set beside the Ptolemaic world, distinguishing its truths and its unreliability, encompassing it in a wider tradition, interpreting it by the light of the knowledge arising from travels beyond the ancient world as well as from the literary rediscoveries (Pomponius Mela, Ptolemy, Strabo) of the fourteenth and fifteenth century.
There was no epistemological revolution in cosmography in the early modern period, but instead a slow and meticulous process of change and remodeling, the final result of which can be historically and symbolically fixed in 1578, the year in which Gerard Mercator published in Antwerp a faithful reproduction of twenty-seven maps from Ptolemy?s Geography, without any text, presenting them clearly and for the first time as works belonging to the history of cartography.
Martellus? oeuvre allows us to appreciate this slow process of discussion and revision and to comprehend the extraordinary expressive richness and, at the same time, the interdependence of Renaissance cartographic languages. Martello combines Ptolemaic mathematical cartography with the graphical forms of nautical and insular cartography.
ALMAGIA, Roberto, ?I mappamondi di Enrico Martello e alcuni concetti geografici di Cristoforo Colombo,? La Bibliofilia 42 (1940), pp. 288-311.
CAMPBELL, Tony, The Earliest Printed Maps. 1472-1500, London, The British Library, 1987, pp. 72?6.
CATTANEO, Angelo, ?La ?Ptolomei Cosmographia? di Henricus Martellus Germanus,? in Ptolomei Cosmographia. Edizione facsimile del codice Magliabechiano XIII,16 della Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze, Florence, Vallecchi, 2004, pp. 23-55.
GAUTIER DALCHÉ, Patrick, ?The Reception of Ptolemy?s Geography (End of the Fourteenth to Beginning of the Sixteenth Century),? in Woodward, D. (ed.), The History of Cartography, III, Cartography in the European Renaissance, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 2007, pp. 285-364.
GENTILE, Sebastiano, Firenze e la scoperta dell?America. Umanesimo e geografia nel ?400 fiorentino, Firenze, Olschki, 1992.
GUEDES, Max Justo, ?Dificultades e Problemas da Navegação de Bartolomeu Dias ao Largo da Costa Africana,? in Bartolomeu Dias e a sua Época: Actas, Porto, Comissão Nacional para as Comemorações dos Descobrimentos Portugueses, 5 voll., I, 1989, pp. 59?76.
MELIS, Federigo, Di alcune figure di operatori economici fiorentini attivi nel Portogallonel XV secolo, in I mercanti italiani nell?Europa medievale e rinascimentale, a cura di L. Frangioni, con un?introduzione di H. Kellenbenz, Florence, Le Monnier, 1990, pp. 1-18.
RADULET, Carmen M., As viagens de Diogo Cão: um problema ainda em aberto, Lisbon, Instituto de Investigação Ciêntífica Tropical, Centro de Estudos de História e Cartografia Antiga, Separatas 194, 1988.
SHIRLEY, Rodney W., The Mapping of the World: Early Printed World Maps, 1472?1700, London, The British Library, pl. 24.
Autor: Angelo Cattaneo