ROSSELLI, Francesco (c. 1445?after 1513, before 1527)
Francesco Rosselli was an illuminator, engraver, printer, and cosmographer. Celebrated by the Venetian historian Marino Sanudo as one of the most influential artist of the sixteenth century, he played a leading role in the engraving, printing, and sale of maps in Florence and Venice during the Renaissance.
The most complete collection of Roselli?s cartographic works is in Florence (Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, Carte Rosselli. Landau Finaly). Analysis of this and of an inventory of the works owned by Rosselli?s workshop, compiled by the Magistratura dei pupilli (a Florentine court that dealt with inheritance) and dated 1527, when his son Alessandro died, reveals that Roselli?s production employed all the known means for representing space as well as the various cartographic syntaxes (or protocols) of that period: planispheres, nautical charts, regional maps, and views. This clearly indicates that the graphical protocols of Ptolemaic and nautical cartography were perceived as equal, if not complementary.
Rosselli is also, with Arrigo di Federico Martello (Henricus Martellus Germanus), one of the more relevant figures in the diffusion of cosmographic knowledge in the major Italian cities in the years just before Christopher Columbus?s first voyage to the first decade of the sixteenth century. The twenty-year period between 1490 and 1510 saw a dramatic widening of the known inhabited world: among others, the travels of Diogo Cão, Bartolomeu Dias, Vasco da Gama,
Pedro Álvares Cabral, Gaspar and Miguel Corte Real, Amerigo Vespucci (for the Portuguese); Christopher Columbus, Vespucci (for the Spanish); and of John and Sebastian Cabot (for the English) shifted hyperbolically the borders of the imago mundi. Between the Iberian coasts and the eastern borders of the classical world view, the ?Cathaio? (China) and the ?Cipango? (Japan) of Marco Polo and the ?Cattigara? of Ptolemy, vast insular and continental spaces were rapidly taking shape.
The most famous map drawn, engraved and printed by Rosselli is a planisphere that show the entire world. This map, which was engraved with a burin on a copper matrix, printed, and sumptuously illuminated, is signed ?F. Rosello Florentino fecit? and dated 1508. Three copies exist; one in the Maritime Museum in Greenwhich, another in the Biblioteca Nazionale in Florence, and a third one in a private collection in San Francisco. In spite of its small size, Rosselli?s planisphere is a work of the greatest importance: it is the first map to show the entire surface of the terrestrial globe under a cartographic grid that encompasses all 360 degrees of longitude and 180 degrees of latitude. Moreover, Rosselli was the first cartographer to use an oval shape for the cartographic grid (comparable to a kind of oval projection), which was later used by the greatest cartographers of the sixteenth century (Giambattista Agnese, Benedetto Bordone, Abraham Ortelius, Jacopo Gastaldi, and Sebastian Münster). The map takes into account Columbus?s fourth voyage in 1502, including the Columbian toponyms on the Asian coast. At the same time, it follows the cosmographic hypotheses of Amerigo Vespucci?in particular those reported in the Mundus novus, perhaps written in the first months of 1503, translated into Latin and published in 1504 in Augsburg; and the Letter to Soderini, written by Vespucci or someone else near to him, between 1503 and 1504, translated into Latin and published in 1507?in drawing the Terra Santa Crucis or Mundus Novus (Land of the Holy Cross or New World) as a new continent, separated from the classical ?known world.? For the first time an austral continent appears south of Africa. In the northern hemisphere, Rosselli
records the travels of John Cabot in 1497, and Asia has been lengthened out of all proportion, extending 330 degrees, almost the entire terrestrial surface, and is twice the size it assumes in the classical Ptolemaic world view.
Rosselli?s planispheres gathers all classical and modern cosmographic knowledge and hypotheses in an extraordinary synthesis. It is an exceptional example of scientific imagination, 2 which can be compared to Leonardo da Vinci?s ?anatomical atlas,? made around the same period, which attempted to represent the entire human body using the symbolic form of the Ptolemaic geographical coordinates.
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JOSEPH, Fischer S.J., De Cl. Ptolemaei vita operibus Geographia praesertim eiusque fatis. Pars prior. Commentatio in Claudii Ptolemaei Geographiae codex Urbinas graecus 82, phototypice depictus consilio et opera curatorum Bibliothecae Vaticanae, Città del Vaticano, 1932, Tomus prodromus: Città del Vaticano, 1932.
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SHIRLEY, Rodney, The Mapping of the World: Early Printed World Maps, 1472?1700, London, The British Library, 1983, pp. 32?3, pl. 28.
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Traditions: a Plea for Reintegration,? in Plantejaments i objectius d?una història universal de la cartografia - Approaches and Challenges in a Worldwide History of Cartography: 11è curs organitzat per l?Institut Cartogràfic de Catalunya i el Departament de Geografia de la Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (Barcelona, 21-25 de febrer de 2000), eds. D. Woodward, C. Delano-Smith and C.D.K. Yee, Barcelona, El Institut, 2001, pp. 49-67.
Autor: Angelo Cattaneo