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A fine and unusually extensive portolan chart with an inset roundel showing the Americas

[Portolan chart of Europe, part of Asia and northern Africa].
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1090 by 585mm. (43 by 23 inches).


Pen and ink, and wash colour on vellum, heightened in silver and gold, extending west to east from the Azores to the Holy Land, and north to south from the British Isles to the north coast of Africa, from western Sahara to the Red Sea, islands in red, blue and green, rivers in blue, numerous coastal place-names in red and sepia in semi-italic lettering, 25 city views with flags, ten large and small compass roses, all with fleur-de-lys north points, heightened in gold, depiction of the Virgin and Child within a compass rose to neck, above an inset map of the globe including the Americas supported by three windheads, two latitude lines, two large and elaborate scale cartouches, the whole chart divided by red, green, and sepia rhumb lines extending from the compass roses, two ornate lateral red borders, old vellum and manuscript overlay repair to upper left shoulder, affecting part of the border, the F of Africa and part of the palm tree, a few small nicks to neck and lower margin of chart.


A large, extensive, and richly decorated portolan chart of Europe, North Africa and Western Asia extending from the British Isles to the Red Sea, and including an inset globe showing the Americas.

The chart has been attributed to Placido Caloiro e Oliva, whose family flourished in Messina between 1621 and 1665. The Oliva cartographic dynasty dominated portolan production in Europe during the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. Charts signed by no fewer than 16 different members of the Oliva family are recorded between 1538 and 1673, and individual members apparently worked throughout the Mediterranean world, as their charts originate from Mallorca, Messina, Naples, Livorno, Florence, Venice, Malta, Palermo, and Marseilles. The exact relationships between the various members are unclear, though similarities in style and content among their works seem to attest to the sharing and transmission of knowledge within the family.

The chart is centered on Sicily and the Mediterranean, with Spain and Portugal, France, Italy and Greece, and includes, in northern Europe: Ireland, England and Wales, with part of Scotland as a separate island; the whole of France, the Flanders, and part of Denmark; in western Asia it shows the northern, western and southern coast of the Black Sea, Anatolia, the whole of the eastern Mediterranean coast including a schematic representation of the Calvary surmounted by three crosses in the Holy Land; in northern Africa, part of the Red Sea and the Nile, a rider on a camel, palm trees, and a lion; in the Atlantic Ocean the Canary Islands and the Azores are shown, divided by two latitude scales, one starting at 33 (23) degrees on the western edge of Africa and cropping at 31 degrees dividing the Canaries, and the second one starting below at 32 and ending at 56 near Ireland. At the neck of the chart is an inset globe within a gold border showing the whole world including Europe with part of Scandinavia and Russia, part of Asia until India, as 'Goa', the Arabian peninsula, the whole of Africa with Madagascar in red; the Americas, part of North America and Canada, with Florida, Mexico, Nova Spagna, Terranova and Nova Francza labelled, the West Indies including Cuba and Spagniola, the whole of South America, Magellan's Strait and 'terra di Foggo'.

The chart presents highly decorative features which are typical of the work of Placido Caloiro e Oliva: the Virgin and Child at the neck, the flagged cities, the elaborate scale bars, the style of the compass roses, the accuracy of the toponyms, the blue-green rivers. The inset globe was a feature introduced in portolan charts by Vesconte Maggiolo, and in the family's oeuvre by Joan Riczo Oliva; it became a constant feature in the work of Placido Caloiro e Oliva and added a modern dimension to a type of map which originated in the Medieval times. A comparison with a signed chart of 1631 held at the Bibliothèque nationale, Paris, reveals further similarities in the construction, the positioning of rhumb lines and names, the location of major and minor islands.

Pfederer records 27 institutional examples of portolan charts and atlases by Placido Caloiro e Oliva. Including the present example, only two have appeared on the market in the last 20 years.


Simonetta Conti, Una Carta Nautica Inedita di Placidus Caloiro et Oliva del 1657, (1978); Richard L. Pflederer, Census of Portolan Charts & Atlases, (privately published, 2009); Pflederer, Finding Their Way at Sea: The Story of Portolan Charts, the Cartographers who Drew Them and the Mariners who Sailed by Them, (Houten: Hes & De Graaf, 2012).