The Campania Region , the Municipality of Naples , the Italian Navy Hydrographic Institute, the Army Geographical Institute, the Italian Naval League, the National Library in Naples, the State Archive of Naples, the Academy of Arts of Naples and the Architectural Heritage have brought back into what was once the seat of one of the most prestigious mapping agencies in Europe - the Topographical Office of the Kingdom of Naples - the copper plates of the renowned Maritime Atlas of 1785: they consist of 23 plates plus the index page and a most beautiful title page, together with the relevant charts and other cartographic documents. Also, many documents and several autographs, related to affairs and people connected with the production of the Atlas. The exhibition included an extensive collection of tools for etching the plates, coming from the Academy of Arts.
It is also included a short film made at the Navy Hydrographic Institute, which illustrates the printing process by the old copperplate press kept at the Institute, and posters showing the history and activity of the two State mapping agencies.
The presentation of the exhibition was held December 13 at 17:00 in the opulent National Vittorio Emanuele III Library, housed since 1927 - at the request of Benedetto Croce - in the "Party Hall"in the long wing of the North Palace .
Decorated with stucco reliefs, the room contains, among other relics, a huge globe by Vincenzo Coronelli.
In the opening ceremony also took part - to emphasize the fruitful cooperation between local authorities and State agencies - dr. Felicita De Negri, director of the State Archive of Naples; dr. Valeria Valente, Councillor of Tourism of the Municipality of Naples; prof. Alfredo Scotti, director of the Academy of Fine Arts; and dr. Maria Rosaria Rosini, President of the Italian Naval League, Section of Naples.
From left to right, General Carlo Colella, prof. Vladimiro Valerio, Dr. Mauro Giancaspro, director of the National Library, Dr. Antonella Basilico, Councillor for Culture of the Province of Naples, arch. Enrico Guglielmo, superintendent of the Architectural Heritage and Admiral Pierpaolo Cagnetti.
The exhibition was displayed in the "Doric Hall" - the old stables of the Royal Palace - close to what were the premises of the Royal Printing House, which also printed the plates of the Topographic Office.
What better location for this celebration of the cartographic glories of the Kingdom of Naples?
On this occasion the Campania Region has entrusted with promotional purposes, to Voyage Pittoresque, a small reproduction of the Atlas, together with a complementary essay by Vladimiro Valerio, illustrating its geometric structure, outlining the history of the Atlas, and of its makers, and offering an annotated list of relevant archival documents.
On the walls of the "Doric Hall, the copper plates of the Atlas , which are today kept at the Army Geographical Institute, and were recently restored at the Navy Hydrographic Institute; in the middle of the room - between the powerful pillars that support the broad arches of the hall - the loose charts of the atlas; on the walls additional "cartographic monuments" of the Kingdom of Naples, coming from both the National Library and a vast private collection. A the end of the room, the plate and the print of the title-page of the Atlas, signed by the author of the drawing, Christoph Kniep, expressly appointed by the Hackert brothers, who supervised the production of the Atlas,; showcases along the walls contain letters, petitions, work orders, money orders etc., as well as the scarce extant literature - mainly the extensive works of prof. Vladimiro Valerio - and the tools used for etching the printing plates.
The Guide to the exhibition, written by Vladimiro Valerio and published by the Army Geographic Institute, helps understand the significance of what is on display. In particular, it informs that "In May 1781 came to Naples from Venice, the geographer and astronomer Giovanni Antonio Rizzi Zannoni, which had been requested by the Court of Naples to the Venetian Senate to review and update the map of the Neapolitan Kingdom which he had published in Paris in 1769, under the supervision of Ferdinando Galiani, secretary at the Neapolitan Embassy in France. "
"What was supposed to be an operation to be completed within six months ended up in an extraordinary survey of the coasts of the Kingdom and its territory, and was the beginning of a great scientific adventure that strongly influenced the Neapolitan art and culture.
This operation, which engaged Rizzi Zannoni and his assistants for over thirty years, developed artistic and technological skills as well as new production sectors spurred on by the requirements of surveying, drawing, engraving and printing, i.e., what with a modern term we may define the induced activity of chart making.
Admiral John Acton , Bourbon powerful minister and director of the Navy, promoted the survey of the coasts in order to produce a maritime atlas of the Kingdom of Naples. The economist Giuseppe Maria Galanti polemically commented in those years that "more is known of the isle of Otaiti than of our provinces" while the maritime survey aimed at establishing the basic principles for understanding the physical features of the Kingdom, which was the largest in Italy. Even Naples coordinates in those years were uncertain and ill defined.
Astronomers and surveyors were engaged for about ten years to survey the coasts of the Kingdom, and minutely represented every coastal detail and features of the mainland useful for navigation and recognition of the coast, while pilots of the Royal Navy measured sea depths and the mouths of rivers.
An echo of this great enterprise is found in the words of Domenico Diodati, who wrote at the time, "architects, astronomers, artists, pilots and several others were appointed to take measurements, and inspect the Mediterranean coastline and the territory of the kingdom."
Between 1783 and 1792 23 large sheets were drawn and engraved, covering the entire coastline of the Kingdom from Gaeta to the river Tronto, on a scale of about 1:90.000. The maritime atlas of Naples was and remains one of the finest European cartographic products of the 18th century. "
This is the reduction of the first version of the maritime chart of the Gulf of Naples, made in 1785 and reissued by the publisher William Faden in 1793 (private collection). From the title-page it is clear that the drawing had been "communicated" by Alexander Dalrymple (1737-1808), first hydrographer of the British Admiralty in 1795. With respect to the original issue, nothing was changed in the topography and the soundings, but two new elements were added: the position of "Casino Hamilton", home of the English Ambassador on the slopes of Vesuvius, and the calculation of the coordinates starting from Greenwich.
A general plan of the Atlante Marittimo. was never published, for both lack of time and for the overlapping and sequence of sheets that fitted the coastal profile, resulting in horizontal and vertical sheets and local roses winds, which did not correspond to adjacent sheets. The only feature common to all the sheets is the geographic grid of the plane projection, highlighted by the new general plan of the atlas, which is obtained by reducing and simplifying the drawing of the coastal profile on each sheet. From an overall look at the atlas, we understand some choices made by the geographer, which were dictated in the first place by the need to complete as soon as possible the survey and printing of the Atlante Marittimo, and secondly, by the purpose of the chart which, because of its scale, certainly would have been used for coastal navigation and recognition. These two aims led to the adoption of a plane rectangular projection, which is much more immediate, as regards both graphic construction and calculations, than the Mercator projection, generally used for nautical charts.
The basic differences between the nautical chart and the geographical map, completed in 1812, only regard the longitudes of the Terra d'Otranto, derived from the astronomical observations made at the Castle of Lecce in 1786, and published as late as 1818 by astronomer de Zach.
A correct reading of the chart required the list of symbols and conventional signs that had been used. This, however, was never published, but on the other hand the symbols were those widely used in Europe, particularly in France and Germany where Rizzi Zannoni had had his training. Therefore, when in 1814 they published in Naples a map of conventional signs, this could be adapted to reading Zannoni':s charts, completed just two years earlier.
From the Guide by Vladimiro Valerio: "Among the various steps to create a map, one of the slowest, cumbersome and expensive methods is the engraving process. Once the complete draft of the chart is accomplished, in order to obtain a number of copies,it is necessary to engrave it. The techniques were obviously borrowed from art and the engravers learned their job in printing laboratories and were often artists themselves. Their techniques included dry point, burin and etching, often used together. The relevance of the reproduction phase in the whole chalcographic process is proved by the large space devoted to "gravure" in the Mémorial Topographique et Militaire in 1803, dedicated to the normalization of chart making and to unification of symbols and conventional signs which mark the onset of modern cartography.
Technical etching, such as used in a geographical map, put many more problems than artistic etching because it required the utmost care when reproducing the drawing, which had to be split into a series of operations, each of which demanded specific specialization and techniques: lines, lettering, mountains, water, finish. Lines could be obtained with a burin or with etching, where the difference lay in the greater accuracy and resistance obtained with a burin, while mountains and trees were etched. The lettering was entrusted to engravers specialized in this operations, which was particularly difficult because of the different size of lettering, whose direction is often not linear but followed the courses of rivers or mountain ranges. Many symbols were obtained with punches that were beaten on the copper to leave a mark. The course of water could be achieved either by burin or dry point, depending on whether the lines followed the course of rivers, lakes and coastline, or whether it was made with a dash "parallèle à l'Équateur". The finish was generally done with the dry point.
After the incision they proceeded with the inking and printing, for which further steps and operators were required. For example, the cleaning of the copper plate after inking could be done with cloth pads or with the palm of the hand, thus resulting in different effects and duration: "les planches imprimÚés Ó la main - observed the Memorial - résistent beaucoup plus longtemps, et les épreuves en sont plus belles.