Making an Impression: The Display of Maps in Sixteenth-Century Venetian Homes
By Genevieve Carlton
Imago Mundi: The International Journal for the History of Cartography, Volume 64, Number 1, 2012
Abstract: Sixteenth-century Venetians decorated the walls of their homes with maps as well as pictures of all kinds. A large corpus of inventories of household goods records the location of these wall decorations and, together with books offering advice on the display of maps, provides evidence that maps were intentionally placed in the most public spaces in the house.
The manuals also confirm the impression gained from the inventories that the maps were valued for their ability to construct a public identity for the owner. They were versatile objects that could demonstrate that the owner was a cultured, cosmopolitan man educated about the world, reinforce his professional or trade standing, or enhance a military persona, all to the glorification of the family name.
Introduction: When Federico da Porto walked into the house of Venice’s prominent diarist Marino Sanudo (1466–1536) in the early years of the sixteenth century, he was struck particularly by the contents of one specific part of the home. Da Porto, a gentleman from Vicenza, described the experience in a Latin epigram he sent to Sanudo after the visit. Re-enacting the tour through Sanudo’s home, da Porto wrote,
‘[T]hen you ordered me to ascend the staircase of the palace; we moved upward little by little: at the top stood a spacious portego. And here we entered a sea of singular objects; nor can the wall be seen anywhere, not any part is empty. Here you could see the various races of mankind, their outward features described; here you could see a thousand new things.’