SOPHIANOS, Nicholaos (ca 1500-1551). Descriptio Nova Totius Graeciae per Nicolaum Sphianum. Basel: [Johannes Schroeterus], [possibly after October], 1601.

$ 375,000.00

8 sheets joined (30 2/8 x 44 inches). Fine woodcut map of Greece, dedication to members of Tycho Brahe's family by I. Jacobus Grassius (Johann Jacob Grasser 1579-1627, Poet Laureate in Basel in 1601), and descriptive text, dated 1601, within elaborate allegorical cartouche lower left, scale lower right, the sea decorated with magnificent galleons, warships and boats, threatened by terrible sea monsters, by "CHS", probably Master Christoph otherwise known as Christoph Schweicker of Strasbourg (who was one of the artists for Munster's "Cosmographia"), and "CH", after Sophianos (without a rare separate ninth sheet printing the key, and giving a list of ancient and modern place-names; some light browning to edges and joins, some discreet repairs lower left).
Provenance: Purchased from Nico Israel, Amsterdam, January 1985, by Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co, their sale, Rachel Davis Auction September 21st, 2013, lot 423.


A variant of the 1601 re-issue, apparently not previously noted, with a dedication to members of astronomer Tycho Brahe's (1546-1601) family, rather than to Andreae Riffio, of Johannes Operin's Basel edition of 1544 and 1545. The map is printed from the same woodcuts and shows Operin's printer's mark of Arion playing his lyre as he rides two dolphins in the sea above the dedicatory cartouche, and the initials of the woodblock artist Christoph Schweicker "CHS" dated 1544 on the sail of a boat north of the island of Crete.

First published as an impressive wall map in eight sheets by Antonio Blado on the Vatican's new Greek press in Rome in 1540, although no copies of that first edition are known to survive. A second edition was published in Basel by Johannes Operin in 1544, although again no copies known to have survived. This was followed by a re-issue in 1545, also printed by Johannes Oporin, of which a copy is known to have been in the National Library of Greece in 1975, but is now lost, another damaged copy in the Library of Congress, and another copy sold at auction at Sotheby's in 2004. A separate edition from an engraved copper plate was also published in Rome in 1552, of which three copies are known. In 1579 Sophianos' map became the basis of Ortelius' map of Ancient Greece first published in the historical 'appendix' to his 'Theatrum Orbis Terrarum...', the 'Parergon' (from 1570 Ortelius had based his modern map of Greece on Gastaldi's map).

Sophianos' magnificent map presented an "historical cartographical panorama of the Greek world", and was seen at the time as a "major repository of antiquarian information about Greece, and was the clear "outcome of a universal spirit - fairly utopian in several aspects - that aimed to link the modern and the antique, Greece and Rome, Orthodoxy and Catholicism, even paganism and Christianity" (Tolias)

Sophianos was born in Corfu, of a noble family, but educated in Rome at the celebrated Greek school in the Quirinale, founded by Pope Leo X (Giovanni de' Medici 1475-1521), a great humanist, patron of the arts and letters, and committed to educating young men from the Ottoman dominated Greece who it was intended would return home to resist the infidel invaders. Sophianos was one of those who did not return, except for a brief visit in 1543, at the behest of Don Diego Hurtado de Mendoza, the Spanish envoy to Venice, who was searching for old Greek manuscripts for the Escorial. Instead he stayed in Rome and became librarian for Nicolaus Rodulphus who owned a magnificent collection of Greek and other manuscripts. Later he was a copyist and dealer in old Greek manuscripts in Venice.
In 1540 he was commissioned by Antonio Blado, the official printer for the Vatican to create a Greek font for the new Greek press which would print Greek Christian and secular manuscripts held by the Vatican library. Although Sophianos' typeface was soon superseded, and a legal battle followed to determine ownership of the font, he did use it in his own later patriotic publications. At about the same time Sophianos drew this extraordinary map of Greece and printed it on Blado's press (see Tolias) for the first time.

While Sophianos's map is essentially based on a Ptolemaic projection, as was the case with all maps of the time, he revised and added many of the myriad details: the coastlines of Corfu, Cephalonia and Zante in the Ionian Sea, the southern coastline of the Peloponnese, and the Cyclades in the Aegean Sea. He also included some of the observations of more ancient Greek geographers. Greece now covers the Balkans south of the Danube and western Asia Minor, and includes place-names and ancient monuments derived from ancient Greek history, from the time of the Argonauts and the Trojan Wars to the writings of Herodotus, Thucydides, Strabo, Pliny and Pausanias. About two thousand places are shown, which in Operin's 1545 edition of the map, were reiterated in an accompanying 90-page "Praefatio", or Introduction by Niocolaus Gerbel, pupil of Erasmus, and friend of Philip Melanchthon and Martin Luther.

The current copy of Sophianos' map is an apparently unrecorded variant issue of Schroeter's 1601 edition, first published in January of that year, but with Grasser's dedication made to members of Tycho Brahe's family: Eric, Falcon, George, Axel and Steen Brahe, rather than to Andreae Riffio. Given that the celebrated Tycho Brahe died in October of 1601, this bibliographer dares to surmise that this issue of Sophianos famous map was published shortly afterwards in commemoration. A copy of the January 1601 issue can be found at the Universitatsbibliothek in Basel (10.3931/e-rara-12617 doi). cf Karrow 77/1.11 (variant issue); Tolias "Nikolaos Sophianos' 'Totius Graseciae Descriptio: The Resources, Diffusion and Function of a Sixteenth-Century Antiquarian Map of Greece', in 'Imago Mundi' Volume 58, Part 2, pages 150-182.