Riding the wave


The Austrian Military Geographical Institute

Cartography was stimulated not only by military or commercial purposes on the high seas, but also by administrative needs which, in northern Italy, reached their climax at the end of the 18th century with the establishment of the cadastre of Maria Theresa of Austria and then Napoleon.

In Milan, in 1796, a topographical bureau was in fact created by the Napoleonic Army, and was directed by engineer-geographer Bacler D'Albe, who prepared the draft of a map of the "battle-field" in Italy.

When the French had to leave the city, they took to Paris these cartographic documents which allowed, in 1802, the publication of two maps in 52 sheets, covering the whole of Italy, including the Maltese Islands.

After their victory at Marengo, the French reconstituted in Milan in 1800 the Bureau, and in 1803 renamed it "Deposit of War", similar to the Dépôt de la Guerre in Paris.

The French Army staff operated in cooperation with Italian technicians, including the engravers Bordiga brothers, Carlo Brioschi (later to be the director of the Capodimonte Observatory), the cousins Giacomo and Giovanni Marieni (the former later being the director of the 'Deposit', and Ferdinando Visconti, later Director of the Topographical Office in Naples, founded in 1781 by Giovanni Antonio Rizzi-Zannoni.

The aim was to produce a map for military use and a map for publication under the direction - from 1804 onwards - of Captain Antonio Campana.

Born in Portici in 1772, he joined the Neapolitan Republic in 1799 and then joined the French Army, participating in the battle of Marengo. Thereafter appointed geographer-engineer, he was assigned to the 'Deposit' in Milan.

At the time of the fall of Napoleon, however, only four sheets of the topographic map were prepared covering the region of the river Piave, while the preparatory work conducted in the northern Adriatic between 1806 and 1813 remained unused.

At the State Archives in Vienna there is a large collection of unpublished cartographic material that covers almost the entire span of the 19th century, divided into two sections: military maps produced by the Navy and city views. The views, certainly not recently, have been individually listed and very briefly described by hand on loose sheets.

We can make assumptions about the nature and origin of such valuable documentation, which could certainly provide elements of further knowledge of the Austrian and French cartography of the early 19th century, a period of great institutional upheaval.

Some specimens must indeed date back to the period of the French occupation in Lombardy-Venetia, because they are signed by an officer "of the Corps of Engineers-Geographers in the year 1813."

They are beautiful watercolored pencil-drawings of different sizes, and since they have the same formal characteristics, they should be part of a consistent series, probably preliminary to the French map of the Adriatic. In actual fact they do not seem to have been published by the Austrians and are not included in the Adriatic pilot-book by Marieni.

Other views, likewise undated and more technical in style, are signed by the same officer who here signs himself "Captain view-maker of the IMP. R. Geographical Institute" and then the documents must be dated after 1815.

In fact, after the Restoration, the Austrians established the Kingdom of Lombardy-Veneto, and the "deposit" was transformed into the larger "Military Geographical Institute of the IR Austrian General Staff", whilst retaining the existing Italian personnel under the direction of Antonio Campana, meanwhile promoted to general, a post which he held until his death in 1841.

The geodetic and topographic work was quickly resumed and led, in 1833, to the engraving of the Chart of the Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia and later to the production of maps for other states in central Italy. In previous years an active collaboration had started with Admiral HW Smyth of the British Navy and the Topographical Office of the Kingdom of Naples, in order to complete the survey of the Adriatic Sea, started during the French occupation, to which had also cooperated Charles François Beautemps-Beaupré, chief hydrographic engineer in charge of the Dépôt des cartes from 1826 to 1839.

A description of the Adriatic Sea and Venetian-Dalmatian coasts by Charles-François Beaupré Beautemps may be found in http://visualiseur.bnf.fr/Visualiseur?Destination=Gallica&O=NUMM-107075

That co-operation resulted in medium scale coastal charts - some are kept at the Italian Hydrographic Institute of the Navy - and the Carta di cabotaggio del Mare Adriatico disegnata e incisa sotto la direzione dell'I. R. Stato Maggiore generale, 1:750.000, published in Milan in 1822-24, in twenty sheets plus the title-page and the index-page, of which a copy is preserved in the Italian Hydrographic Institute.

Title-page of the Carta di cabotaggio ... 1822-24, produced in the Austrian Geographical Institute in Milan, in cooperation with the Topographical office of the Kingdom of Naples and the British Admiralty.
( Italian Navy Hydrographic Institute)

Among the charts derived from that multinational cooperation, the Italian Hydrographic Institute keeps one of the gulf of Venice. Letters show the quality of the seabed, after the innovation introduced by the Spanish hydrographer Vincente Tofino at the end of the previous century.

Adriatic Sea / Gulf of Venice / from / to Rimini Cape Premantura / From the Austrian English & Neapolitan Cooperations / Directed by / Col.s Bell & Visconti & Capt. WH Smyth, RN .. . London, 1827
( Italian Navy Hydrographic Institute)

The Italian Hydrographic Institute of the Navy also has some copies of the second edition of the voluminous Portolano del Mare Adriatico by Giacomo Marieni, complementary to the Carta di cabotaggio del Mare Adriatico, published in 1830 and reissued in 1845. The Chart was reprinted in the following Sixties, of which a copy is preserved in the Archives of Zadar.

With the almost total coverage of the central and northern regions, the 'Deposit' had completed its task and in 1839 was transferred to Vienna, where it assumed the name KuK Militär Geographischen Institute. The navigational charts for restricted military use were instead produced at the naval base established in 1856 in Pula, with attached arsenal and hydrographic service.