La Geografia di Claudio Tolomeo Alessandrino Nuovamente tradotta di Greco in Italiano, … Con Espositioni del medesimo, particolari di luogo, & universali sopra il libro, et sopra tutta la Geografia, o modo di sar la descrittione di tutto il mondo. Translated by Girolamo Ruscelli.

Venice: Vincenzo Valgrisi, 1561.

First edition of one of the most important and influential editions of Ptolemy’sGeography, edited and translated from Greek into Italian by the great scholar Girolamo Ruscelli, the founder the first European scientific society, the Accademia Segreta in Naples, with his numerous remarks and extensive addenda. “A new and important edition” (Sabin). The Renaissance rediscovery of the Greek text of Ptolemy’s Geography captured the imagination of thinkers across disciplines. Although none of the original maps survived antiquity, Renaissance cartographers rose to the challenge of re-illustrating the famous treatise. In this edition, the maps are enlarged copies of Gastaldi's maps in the 1548 Ptolemy. Ruscelli has reinserted the map of the old world by Ptolemy (excluded from the Gastaidi edition), drawn the world map on a new projection, and added three new maps. Two important innovations were introduced through this edition into the literature of atlases. The map of the world is divided into two hemispheres, the right representing the Old World and the left the New; and also, the map of the Arctic Regions, copied from the 1558 Zeno chart, here is included for the first time in a Ptolemy. If the Zeno Arctic map “had not received extensive circulation under the sanction of Ptolemy’s name, it would have been soon forgotten. During nearly a whole century it now exercised an influence on the mapping of the northern countries, to which there are few parallels to be found in the history of cartography” (Nordenskiold). The maps of this edition of Ptolemy also served as models for the famous wall-paintings executed in the Vatican during the reign of Pope Pius IV. The 64 maps comprise 28 Ptolemaic maps and 36 ‘modern’ maps including two world maps and seven others relating to the Americas. Ruscelli was ​“highly praised by contemporaries as a man of immense erudition, and humanistic writings add substance to these encomiums. Among his works were annotations on Boccaccio and Petrarch, commentaries on the Italian language, books on the design of arms and armour, heraldry, militia, the rules of Italian poetry, history, and a translation of Ptolemy’s ​‘Geography’ [as here]” (Eamon and Paheau). 

Provenance: “Cav. Livio Parugi” (signature on title); “MD” (stamp on title); two other faint unidentified stamps; Herbert Claiborne Pell, Jun. (bookplate).

“Ptolemy’s Geography is the only book on cartography to have survived from the classical period and one of the most influential scientific works of all time. Written in the second century AD, for more than fifteen centuries it was the most detailed topography of Europe and Asia available and the best reference on how to gather data and draw maps. Ptolemy championed the use of astronomical observation and applied mathematics in determining geographical locations. But more importantly, he introduced the practice of writing down coordinates of latitude and longitude for every feature drawn on a world map, so that someone else possessing only the text of the Geography could reproduce Ptolemy's map at any time, in whole or in part, at any scale” (Berggren & Jones, Ptolemy's Geography: An Annotated Translation of the Theoretical Chapters, 2000).

“The core of the Geography consists of three parts necessary for Ptolemy’s purpose: instructions for drawing a world map on a globe and on a plane surface using two new map projections, a catalogue of localities to be marked on the map with their coordinates in latitude and longitude, and a caption or descriptive label (hypographē) to be inscribed on the map. As a supplement Ptolemy adds instructions for making a picture of a globe with a suitable caption, and describes a way of partitioning the known world into twenty-six regional maps, with a detailed caption for each. The introductory chapters set out fundamental principles for obtaining the data on which the world map is to be based, and necessary conditions for a good map projection; Ptolemy devotes much space here to criticism of his predecessor, Marinos” (Berggren & Jones, p. 4).

“The Geography, in eight books, is an attempt to map the known world. The bulk of it consists of lists of places with longitude and latitude, accompanied by very brief descriptions of the chief topographical features of the larger land areas. It was undoubtedly accompanied in Ptolemy’s own publication by maps like those found in several of the manuscripts. But knowing how easily maps are corrupted in copying, Ptolemy takes pains to ensure that the reader will be able to reconstruct the maps on the basis of the text alone: he describes in book I how to draw a map of the inhabited world and lists longitudes and latitudes of principal cities and geographical features in books II—VII. Book VIII describes the breakdown of the world map into twenty-six individual maps of smaller areas. Ptolemy tells us that the Geography is based, for its factual content, on a similar recent work by Marinus of Tyre. But it seems to have improved on Marinus’ work (for which the Geography is the sole source of our knowledge) in several ways … Ptolemy was probably the first to employ systematically listings by latitude and longitude.

“Ptolemy also criticizes Marinus’ map projection, a system of rectangular coordinates in which the ratio of the unit of longitude to that of latitude was 4:5. Ptolemy objects that this system distorts distances except near the latitude of Rhodes (36°). While accepting such a system for maps covering a small area, for the world map he proposes two alternative projection systems. The known world, according to Ptolemy, covers 180° in longitude from his zero meridian (the Blessed Isles) and in latitude stretches from 16.25° south to 63° north. In his first projection the meridians are mapped as radii meeting in a point H (not the north pole), the parallels of latitude as circular arcs with H as center. Distances are preserved along the meridians and along the parallel of Rhodes, and the ratio of distances along the parallel of 63° to those along the parallel of the equator is preserved. These conditions completely determine the projection … The second projection aims to achieve more of the appearance of a globe. The parallels of latitude are again constructed as circular arcs, but now distances are preserved along three parallels: 63° north, 23.50° north, and 16.25° south. The meridians are constructed by drawing circular arcs through the points on these three parallels representing the same angular distance from the central meridian, which is mapped as a straight line along which distances are preserved. The first projection is (except for the modification south of the equator) a true conic projection; the second is not, but for the segment covered by the map is a remarkably good approximation to the true conic projection that was later developed from it (the Bonne projection, which preserves distances along all parallels). Ptolemy took a giant step in the science of mapmaking, but he had no successor for nearly 1,400 years” (DSB).

Ptolemy’s Geography was first printed in 1475. That edition had no maps, but the first illustrated edition appeared only two years later, including maps illustrating the three continents known to Ptolemy. Subsequent editions added ‘modern’ maps related not only to the newly discovered Americas, but also to Asia, Africa, and Europe. The maps in Ruscelli’s edition of Ptolemy are enlarged copies by Giulio and Livio Sanuto of those which appeared in Giacomo Gastaldi’s 1548 edition, except ​‘Universale Novo’, which was drawn on a new projection and renamed ​‘Orbis Descriptio’.

“Some of the important maps include: ​‘Septemtronalum partium nova tabula’, a reduced version of the Nicolo Zeno map of the North Atlantic Ocean of 1558 and including many fictitious islands; ​‘Tierra Nueva’, a map of the east coast of North America showing the Hudson and St. Lawrence Rivers; and ​‘Nueva Hispania Tabula Nova’ showing the Yucatan as a peninsula. Other maps of America are ​‘Tierra Nova’ showing South America, ​‘Brasil Nuova Tavola’, ​‘Isola Cuba Nova’, and ​‘Isola Spagnola Nova’; ​‘India Tercera Nuova Tavola’ shows the East Indies. ​‘Orbis Descriptio’, the twin hemisphere new world map, which as Shirley reports, is the earliest of its kind to appear in an atlas, shows not only North and South America, but also the islands of New Guinea. Maps not found in the previous Gastaldi edition of 1548 are: Scandinavia (after Jacob Ziegler, 1532); Brazil (after Giovanni Ramusio); the Arctic regions; South Africa; and a navigational chart of the world” (Daniel Crouch).

Adams P-2235; Armstrong, 30; Bagrow-Skelton, p. 268; BM, Italian Books, pp. 443 & 543; Layng 448-451; Nordenskiold, Facs. Atlas, 30; Phillips 371; Sabin 66503; Shirley, Mapping of the World 110, 111. Eamon and Paheau, ‘The Accademia Segreta of Girolamo Ruscelli: A Sixteenth-Century Italian Scientific Society,’ Isis 75 (1984), pp. 327-342.



Three parts in one vol., 4to (215 x 161mm), pp [4], [1]-288, 286, 290-[360], ff. 28, ff. 24, pp [1]-47, with 62 double-page engraved maps mounted on stubs, Greek and Roman types, woodcut printer's device on title, historiated woodcut initials, woodcut diagrams (lacking 2 maps, some dampstaining and toning, map of Holland torn at gutter with stains, maps in part 2 with some soiling, occasional offsetting and spots). Older stiff vellum with manuscript title on spine, edges gilt (textblock cracked with about 11 maps loose from binding, lacking ties, a little soiling).

Item #6045

Price: $8,500.00

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