Catalan Atlas – Record of the State-of-the Art
The best work from the Majorcan cartographic school of the14th century is the Catalan Atlas which was probably produced in 1375 and attributes but without certainty to Cresques Abraham. The atlas has been recorded already in Charles V’s library in the record drawn by Gilles Malet and in 1930, was copied by Jean Blanchet.
The Atlas is said to be historically important as a record of the `state of the art’ of geographic knowledge of the 14th century. It comprises of details drawn from Marco Polo’s narrative that had made it the most precise depiction of Asia. Moreover it also marked a departure from some mapmaking conventions of the middle Ages. Some though not all unverifiable information together with mythical being which had been includedin the maps for centuries had been omitted by the mapmaker.
The Catalan Atlas, in this respect, marks the transition to the empirical approach of the Renaissance. From around 1803 to 1838, Charles Simonneau was a French map publisher and a map seller in Paris, France and the label with his reprint of the Catalan Atlas portrays a location at 6 rue de la Paix, advertising `Globes, Spheres, Atlases, Geographic and Historical, Old and Modern as well as Geographic Maps, Topographical and Celestial, French and Foreign’.
Composed of 6 Vellum Leaves
From 1839 till at least 1860, the firm’s maps were sold under the imprint of `Longuet, successor of Simonneau.The Catalan Atlas was initially composed of 6 vellum leaves which were folded down the middle, the leaves presently are cut into half and painted in different colours, silver and gold. Each of the half leaf has been mounted on one side of five wooden panels and the first half of the first leaf together with the second half of the last leaf seems to be mounted on the inner boards of a brown leather binding.
Each of the leaf measures around 65 x 50 cm, an overall size of 65 x 300 cm. The first two leaves comprise of a compilation of cosmographical, astrological and astronomical text that is translated into Catalan. The texts seem to highlight the spherical shape and the state of the known world of the earth. Moreover they also offer useful information to sailors on tides and how to calculate time at night.
Intended to be Read with the North at the Bottom
Besides this, the text are also supplemented by various illustrations, a tide table, the figure of a man marked with the signs of the zodiac, a perpetual calendar together with a large circular chart bordered by the four seasons that provide information on the zodiac, the seven known planets as well as a diagram of the constellations.
The remaining four leaves tend to make up the real map which is divided into two parts and portrays several illustrations of cities, where the governmental adherences are represented by a flag. Christian cities have been marked with a cross while the other cities are marked with a dome. Oceans and seas are signified by wavy blue vertical line. The nautical charts as usual have the place names of important ports recorded in red while the others are in black.
The Catalan Atlas unlike several other nautical charts is intended to be read with the north at the bottom and hence the maps are adapted from left to right, from the Far East to the Atlantic.