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Tertia Africae Tabula
[Rome: Petrus de Turre, 4 November 1490]. Copper-engraved map, in very good condition apart from a repair to the lower right corner, light old dampstain to centre fold. 16 1/8 x 22 inches. A highly important and elegant map from the second edition of the 'Rome Ptolemy' This map is one of the earliest and most important printed maps of Egypt and Libya ever produced, being one of the trapezoidal tabulae, or regional maps of the Classical world, contained in the 1490 Rome edition of Ptolemy's Cosmographia. This map depicts the Alexandrian Ptolemy's home region, taking in all of Egypt and the Nile Valley north from Meroë to the Delta on the Mediterranean. The image also takes in Cyrenia, now the Jebel Akhdar (Green Mountains) region of Libya. In between the finely engraved mountain ranges, the Nile Valley features the numerous historically important cities and sites of Roman Egypt. From the Nile Delta the coastline features a great deal of toponymic detail, while to the south, the Sahara is shown to be an enigmatic expanse of mountains and isolated oases. As part of the 1490 'Rome Ptolemy', this map was printed from the same plates used for the first edition of 1478. R.A. Skelton stated that the 1490 edition was issued 'in response to the geographical curiosity aroused by the Portuguese entry into the Indian Ocean', with Bartholemew Dias's rounding of the Cape of Good Hope in 1488 (Skelton, p.X), and appropriately Christopher Columbus heavily annotated a copy of the 1478 edition. The 'Rome Ptolemy' maps occupy an extremely important place in the history of early printing, and the story of their genesis is most fascinating. It begins with Conrad Swenheym, who is widely thought to have been present at the birth of printing while an apprentice of Johann Guttenberg. After Mainz was sacked in 1462, Swenheym fled south to Italy and arrived at the Benedictine monastery of Subiaco, likely at the suggestion of the great humanist and cartographer Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa. In 1464-5, Swenheym, in partnership with another German émigré, Arnold Pannartz, introduced the first printing press to Italy. Over the next few years, Pope Paul II was to become so enthusiastic about the new medium that he liquidated scriptoria and commissioned several newly established printers to publish vast quantities of religious and humanist texts. In 1467, Swenheym and Pannartz moved to Rome under the Pope's patronage where they printed over fifty books from their press at the Massimi Palace. Unfortunately, when the pope died in 1471, the new pontiff Sixtus IV disavowed the numerous unpaid orders of his predecessor. In this new climate, Swenheym and Pannartz elected to move away from mass printing and to rededicate their efforts to creating the first printed illustrated edition of Ptolemy's Cosmographia, a work which was one of the greatest sensations of the Italian renaissance. By 1474 this immensely challenging endeavor was well under way, and Swenheym is recorded as having trained "mathematicians" to engrave maps on copper. They did, however have competition in the form of Taddeo Crivelli of Bologna, who was determined to be the first to the goal, even allegedly poaching one of Swenheym's employees who was privy to the project in Rome. Crivelli raced to complete the project, while Swenheym painstakingly guided the quality of his work, an endeavor slowed by the death of Pannartz in the plague of 1476. Crivelli's work was finally published on June 29th, 1477, making it the first printed Cosmography and the first ever set of engraved maps. Swenheym died in 1577, and the project was taken up by Arnold Buckinck, originally from Cologne, who saw the project to completion on October 10, 1478. While it may not have been the first printed edition, Rodney Shirley notes that 'The copper plates engraved at Rome ... [were] much superior in clarity and craftsmanship to those of the 1477 Bologna edition ... Many consider the Rome plates to be the finest Ptolemaic plates produced until Gerard Mercator engraved his classical world atlas in 1578' (Shirley p.3). Swenheym's close supervision of his engravers saw that 'The superior craftsmanship of the engraved maps in the Rome edition, by comparison with those of the [1477] Bologna edition, is conspicuous and arresting. The cleanliness and precision with which the geographical details are drawn; the skill with which the elements of the map are arranged according to their significance, and the sensitive use of the burin in working the plates - these qualities ... seem to point to the hand of an experienced master, perhaps from North Italy' (Skelton, p.VIII). A number of authorities have suggested a principal engraver from either Venice or Ferrara. Another aspect of these maps which stands out is the fine Roman letters used for the place names on the plates. In an apparently unique experiment, these letters were not engraved with a burin but punched into the printing plate using metal stamps or dies. These fine prints represent a milestone in the medium, being some of the earliest successful intaglio engravings, quite apart from their undeniable cartographic importance. While the artists who carried out Swenheym's vision will likely never be known, they produced the most important and artistically virtuous printed maps of the fifteenth-century. Upon the publication of the Rome Ptolemy, a frustrated Crivelli saw potential clients abandon his edition in favour of its superior rival. Petrus de Turre (Pietro de la Torre) purchased these same plates and on November 4th, 1490 first used them to print a second Rome edition, of which this map was a part. The plates had remained in excellent condition and the original sharpness and quality was preserved. This map remains one of the most historically important and visually striking images of Egypt and Libya available to collectors. Cf. BMC IV, p.133; Campbell, The Earliest Printed Maps, pp.131-133; Destombes, Catalogue des Cartes gravées au XVe siècle, 41(1); cf. Goff, P-1086; cf. Hain, 13541; Indice Generale, 8128; cf. Klebs, Incunabula, 812.7; cf. Proctor, 3966; cf. Sabin, Ptolemy, 66474; cf. Sander, 5976; Shirley, The Mapping of the World, 4; cf. Skelton, Claudius Ptolomaeus Cosmographia Rome 1478, p.XIII; cf. Stevens, Ptolemy's Geography, 42; cf. Stilwell, P-992
      [Bookseller: Donald Heald Rare Books]
Last Found On: 2013-07-20           Check availability:      Biblio    

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