Fra Mauro’s world map (c. 1448-1459): mapping, mediation and the Indian Ocean world in the early Renaissance
By Marianne O’Doherty
Wasafiri, Vol.26:2 (2011)
Introduction: Begun around 1448 and completed some time before 1459, Fra Mauro’s World map, illustrated in the figure accompanying this article, is a beautiful object. Its designer, Fra Mauro, was an inmate of the Camaldulian monastery of San Michele on Murano, and worked on the map over a period of some years with the assistance of a workshop including fellow-monks and the Venetian galley captain and cartographer, Andrea Bianco. Around 4 m. square and mounted on boards that enable it to be hung on a wall, the map was clearly intended for display. Beyond this, however, its purposes are obscure; on the one hand an inscription on its face declares that it was created ‘a contemplation de questa Illustrissima Signoria’, implying a close connection with the Venetian state. On the other hand, there is no record of the map ever hanging anywhere other than the church and hall (aula) of the monastery where it was produced. The map as a whole is fascinating, and has been an object both of wonder and of scholarship for historians of cartography, exploration and culture for hundreds of years. Recently, Piero Falchetta’s superb edition and English translation of its c. 3000 Venetian legends, published with copious notes and CD-Rom with high-resolution reproduction of map has made it accessible, for the first time, to a wider audience of students and non-specialists.