Catalan Atlas: Portolan Meets Mappa Mundi

20 Jun

Referred to as one of the last great mappa mundis before the emergence of ptolemic maps in the 15th century, the Catalan Atlas was produced in 1375, with the originals in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (National Library of France) in Paris today. The creator of the Catalan Atlas is believed to be the Majorcan Jew, Abraham Cresques, and was given as a gift to Charles V of France. Combining geography, peoples, cosmography, navigation, astronomy, astrology, and planetary information, the Catalan Atlas was viewed as representative of the most complete illustration of geographical knowledge at the time.


Calendar Wheel with Earth at Center and Text Written in Catalan Language: George Glazer Gallery

The Catalan Atlas is a multi-sheet world map on six vellum sheets. The map’s orientation is from left to right, from the Far East to the Atlantic, and is read with the north at the bottom. It was created from a few different sources including the typical circular mappa mundi of medieval times, the portolan coastlines of the Mediterranean and Black Sea, and Western Europe, as well as features drawn from the accounts of 13th and 14th century travelers to Asia. The first two sheets contain illustrations and texts highlighting elements of cosmography, astronomy, and astrology in Catalan language. The earth is presented as a spherical shape, and a diagram conveying useful information pertaining to tides and nocturnal time keeping that was useful to sailors is depicted. The additional sheets make up the actual map, which shows illustrations of various cities that can partly be identified by a flag. A cross or dome indicates a Christian city, while oceans are




Detailed Sheets Showing Cities, Rivers, Coastlines, Ports, Rhumb Lines, and Various Pictures: George Glazer Gallery

identified by wavy blue vertical lines, and the names of important ports are written in red, and other lesser ports identified in black.

While the Catalan Atlas does not appear to have a significant amount of mappa mundi elements, mythological characters such as sirens, pygmies, and amazons are illustrated battling storks. It maintains the rhumb lines of a portolan chart, and employs the best information existing at the time, symbolizing the height of medieval map-work. It was designed to assist sailors find their way at sea, by depicting coastlines and hazards to shipping. This may have been one of the last great medieval maps, but it also paved the way for a new kind of map to emerge-one that focused on greater accuracy.  


George Glazer Gallery. The Catalan Atlas – 19th C. Edition in 6 Maps: After  

       Abraham Cresques (Originally Produced in 1375. 5/17/2016. <

http://www.      /archives /maps/archive-world/catalan.html>.

Abraham Cresques . The Catalan Atlas. 5/17/2016 <http://www.henry- 235mono.html>.


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