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PTOLEMAEUS, Claudius (after 83 - ca 168 AD). Cosmographia. Ulm: Lienhart Holl, 1482.

PTOLEMAEUS, Claudius (after 83 - ca 168 AD). Cosmographia. Ulm: Lienhart Holl, 1482.


Folio (16 x 11 2/8 inches). 133 leaves. 32 EXCEPTIONALLY FINE DOUBLE-PAGE WOODCUT MAPS, WITH MAGNIFICENT ORIGINAL COLOUR, including the deepest richest blue of lapis in the oceans, typically used in the earliest issues before the expense became a problem, woodcut historiated and Maiblumen initials, ornamental woodcut borderpieces, woodcut diagrams in the text, rubricated throughout with capital strokes and paragraph marks, and several missing initials supplied, with delicate yellow washes on text headings (one or two closed marginal tears). 17th-century Italian gold-panelled vellum, with small tooled supr-libros of Cardinal Altieri, the future Pope Clement X (hinges expertly strengthened); modern vellum backed cloth clamshell box.

Provenance: Contemporary ownership inscription of Pietro dal Verme (?died 1485) at the head of the first page of text; insignia of Emilio Lorenzo, Cardinal Altieri (1590-1676) the future Pope Clement X (1670-1676); the library stamp of Prof. Victor Goldschmidt of Heidelberg; Robert L.B. Tobin (died 2000), Patron of the Arts, his sale Cartographic Collection Sotheby's 7th December 1999, lot 302 .


The text of Claudius Ptolemy's "Cosmographia" was translated into Latin from the original Greek by Jacobus Angelus and was first published, in Renaissance times, at Vicenza (1475), Bologna (1477) and Rome (1478). The sumptuous edition published at Ulm in 1482, however, far surpassed all earlier efforts and remains one of the most important publications in the history of cartography. This is the first redaction of the 'Geography' to be printed outside of Italy, the earliest atlas printed in Germany, the first to depart from the classical prototype to reflect post-antique discoveries, the first to be illustrated with woodcuts rather than engravings, and the first to contain hand-colored maps, the design and execution of which were ascribed to a named cartographer, and the first to incorporate the five modern maps by Nicolaus Germanus.

The Ulm edition, moreover, was the first to depart from the classical prototype by expanding the atlas to reflect post-antique discoveries about the size and shape of the earth. To the canonical twenty-seven Ptolemaic maps were added five "modern maps" of Spain, France, Italy, the Holy Land and northern Europe. The world map is of particular interest as it is the first to be signed, by Johannes Schnitzer of Armsheim, who in trade mark fashion has reversed every capital N, and inadvertently provided two Tropics of Cancer. This map is the first to be based on Ptolemy's second projection, in which both parallels and meridians are shown curved to convey the sphericity of the earth. Schnitzer, furthermore, updated the Ptolemaic world picture by incorporating improvements that were probably based on a manuscript of the 1470s by Nicolaus Germanus (ca 1420-1490), a Benedictine monk of Reichenbach Abbey in Bavaria, who is depicted in the first illuminated letter of the atlas presenting his book to the dedicatee Pope Paul II. One notable addition is a rudimentary depiction of Scandinavia to the north, within an extension of the map's top border. This is also the earliest printed map to show the northernmost reaches of the Atlantic Ocean. The world map, moreover, embodies what is perhaps the most readily apparent feature of the Ulm Ptolemy: its beauty.

Though printed outside Italy, the paper this magnificent atlas was printed on was imported from Italy, and payment made in part by complete copies of the finished atlas. It is therefore not surprising that many copies known have an early Italian provenance: including this copy, which is from the distinguished library Pietro dal Verme, probably the Count dal Verme di Sanguinetto, Lord of Vigevano, and general of Milan under, and son-in-law to, Galeazza Maria Sforza, Duke of Milan from 1466 to his assassination in 1476. After Dal Verme's own assassination in 1485 the humanist regent of Milan Ludovico il Moro confiscated the dal Verme feudal estates, including the Castel San Giovanni, which passed to the Dukes of Parma and Piacenza. Subsequently from the library of Emilio Lorenzo Altieri (1590-1676), made cardinal in 1669 by the dying Pope Clement IX, and Pope Clement X in 1670. He spent his lifetime struggling to secure peace in Europe, and notably created a Holy See at Quebec. Also from the library of Robert L. Tobin.

Claudius Ptolemy was an Alexandrine Greek, and a dominant figure in both astronomy and geography for more than 1500 years. "He compiled a mapmaker's manual usually referred to simply as the 'Geography'. He demonstrated how the globe could be projected on a plane surface, provided coordinates for over 8,000 places across his the Roman world, and expressed them in degrees of longitude and latitude. Now maps drawn by Ptolemy himself are known to survive, but maps compiled from his instructions as outlined in his 'Geography' were circulated from about 1300. This Ulm edition of Ptolemy's 'Georgaphy' is one of the earliest printed. Lloyd Arnold Brown, The World Encompassed, exh. cat. (Baltimore, 1952), n. 37; Granville Allen Mawer for "Mapping our World: Terra Incognita to Australia", National Library of Australia, page 37; Rodney W. Shirley, The Mapping of the World (London, 1983), n. 10; R. V. Tooley, Maps and Map-makers (New York, reprint 1990), 24. Catalogued by Kate Hunter

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