Riding the wave


Regional pilot books

The title page of the Specchio del mare ("Mirror of the Sea") F.M. Levanto, 1664
(Genoa, Civico Museo Navale)

In 15th-17th century there was a large bloom of regional atlases and pilot books, probably inspired by similar works of Nordic origin: in 1664 the Genoese Francesco Maria Levanto produced La prima parte dello Specchio del Mare nel quale si descrivono tutti li porti ... del Mediterraneo, reusing - as he himself states in the caption of a chart - the plates of a similar Dutch work, probably De Lichte Colomne ofte Zeespiegel published by Anthoni Jacobsz in 1643 and reissued with great success until 1715.

The striking title-page of the Specchio del mare ("Mirror of the Sea") is composed of three distinct parts: an allegory of Geography at the top flanked by putti with a back-staff and zodiac signs; at the center there is an alaborate oval with the title and the dedication to Gio Battista della Rovere, surrounded by putti, tools and charts; below, the representation of a lively sea battle. The title, with the necessary corrections, was reused by Coronelli for his Isolario of the Atlante Veneto, in the section on the southern Italian coast.

On page 62 starts the Quarta dimostratione nella quale si contengono le coste maritime d'Italia Fra il Capo delle Mele, e Messina. As usual, in the text are included coastal views and major port plans, combining the information typical of a chart with a stylized perspective views of cities and their fortifications.

Mariners, though, were not experienced cartographers, so they used to re-use pilot books made by others, adding corrections derived from their own experience, but did not bother to reprint the updated text. Therefore the Specchio del mare by Levanto certainly served as a model for similar works, including - for example - the Portolano del Regno di Sicilia by Filippo Geraci, kept in the Palermo Civic Library together with other pilot books and manuscript itineraries of Sicily.

The author qualifies as 'Royal Pilot of the Sicily Squad' and his manuscript contains information useful to mariners, as well as news of political, military and economic interest that give a composite picture of Sicily in late 17th century.

A Mediterranean portolan chart of his, made a little later, is kept at the Regional Library of Sicily.

Another nautical atlas of regional interest, which describes the Ionian Sea and the Aegean, is the Nautico ricercato... by Gaspare Tentivo, sea captain in the service of the Republic of Venice, of which three versions are known, due to different transcripts in the second half of 17th century, kept in the Museo Correr in Venice.

The original version, attributed to 1672, contains 88 watercolor plates. A second copy, with 92 tables, has the same text and is considered contemporary, but it seems to be written by a different hand while the third copy, with 73 charts, probably goes back to shortly after 1683. All three are full of news, directions, distances and latitudes, so as to "facilitate navigation".

Of the same atlas/pilot book there is a copy of 1732, of 296 double sheets and 83 watercolor plates, and like the previous versions, describes the coasts and harbors from Cape of Otranto to Alexandria.

The table dedicated to the island of Zakynthos in the Nauticus ex Tentivo ... in the edition of 1732
(Venice, Museo Correr, Port. 29, 432 ms)

Another local pilot-book/atlas is the Prima parte della Stella Guidante di Pilotti e Marinari, by Guglielmo Saetone from Albissola, of 1682-83, kept in Albisola Marina City Hall, of which a copy is known to be at the Library Braidense in Milan, made shortly before.

The book includes 82 general and local charts, ocher-watercolored, with some details in bright colors; after the title page there is a double table of the western Mediterranean and a second general chart for the Eastern Mediterranean, decorated with a vivid representation of ten galleys showing the Genoese flag, which is also placed on the islands Metelino and Sio, while Rhodes appears with the colors of the Order of Malta. Also Saetone, in addition to the information essential to safe navigation, provides valuable historical, economic, and environmental information of his time.

Sheet nr 8 (detail) of the Stella Guidante by Saetone, dated 1683, represents the eastern Mediterranean. At the top to the right is a fleet of galleys with the Genoese flag, which also appears on the islands of Chios and Lesvos. The island of Rhodes, instead, exhibits the flag - a white cross on a red field - of the Order of Malta ( Albisola Marina, City Hall)
The charts have been published in Coste del Mediterraneo nella cartografia Europea 1500-1900, by Paola Presciuttini, published by Priuli & Verlucca, 2004, 179 p., 318 ill.