Rare maps depict changing world view

A rare collection of six Ptolemy atlases, tracing exploration during the 15th- and 16th-centuries Age of Discovery is to be exhibited at Frieze Masters in London between October 5-8 by Daniel Crouch Rare Books.

Ptolemy's Geographica
Strasburg edition of Ptolemy’s ‘Geographia’ produced by Martin Waldeseemüller, 1513

The work of Claudius Ptolemy, a Greek geographer and mathematician, was widely read during the Renaissance, and inspired a new generation of European cartography. The Ptolemy atlases represent not only the finest classical geography at the time, but also the latest developments in contemporary cartography: in them is the first map to show Japan; the first map to name America; and the earliest obtainable depiction of the Americas.

The earliest Ptolemy edition on the stand dates from 1482; it is the third printed atlas ever made, and the first in the Italian language (priced at £400,000). The 1511 Venice edition is notable not only for being the first atlas wholly printed in colour, but also for incorporating the first printed map to indicate Japan, and to show it correctly as an island (priced at £150,000).

The collection contains both the second (1490) and third (1507) Rome editions. The Rome edition (£300,000) is generally regarded as containing the finest copperplate maps of any Ptolemy. The third Rome edition is very rare: there has only been one example known at auction. It includes Johann Ruysch’s rare fan-shaped world map, which features the earliest obtainable printed depiction of the New World (£500,000). The 1525 Strasburg edition is the first Ptolemy atlas to name this new continent ‘America’. Decorated with woodblock designs by Albrecht Dürer, it also contains two entirely new maps of southeast Asia and the East Indies (£75,000).

However, arguably the most important of all the atlases on show is the 1513 Strasburg edition. Produced by Martin Waldeseemüller, the man responsible for the first map to name America, it includes the earliest atlas map devoted entirely to the New World, based on information from Christopher Columbus himself (£600,000).

Together, these atlases provide a cartographic timeline of a changing world view, as European exploration challenged the boundaries of contemporary knowledge.

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