Riding the wave


The Dulcert chart

Like Italy, Spain too gave an early contribution to nautical cartography, since the XIV century, with a large production of portulan charts, i.e., general charts of the entire Mediterranean to the Black Sea. They are mainly drawn on one single skin with the neck generally to the left, and are disoriented eastward, so that the western basin is almost aligned with the eastern basin.

They are crossed by the usual grid of "rhumbs", i.e., half-lines derived from wind roses regularly distributed on the chart. The drawing is multicolored and further enlivened by silver and gold, while other colors have a specific role in distinguishing, for example, main winds from the secondary ones, or the most relevant coastal towns. The earliest charts, however, are usually linear, representing only the coastline with its place names perpendicular to it, while the interior is bare, both because internal details were useless for navigation, and because the geographic information was lacking.

These features are found on the map of Angelino Dulcert of 1339, one of the first medieval cartographic documents, on which an inscription informs that 'opus fecit Angelino Dulcert ano M CCC XXX VIIII de mense Augusti in civitate maioricarum'. It would therefore seem a masterpiece of Majorcan origin. However, scholars have debated for over half a century on the question of the nationality of the author. In 1887 a definitely Italian chart had been discovered in Florence, dated 1325 or 1330 (the date in Roman numerals is not clearly legible), whose author was identified with difficulty in Angelino Dalorto or Dalorcofrom the Ligurian village Orco Feglino: the similarity between the two maps leads us to attribute them to the same cartographer. The name of the cartographer is the same on both and is a typical Ligurian name; the inscription of the Italian map is similar to that of the Dulcert chart, on which an inscription expresses a tribute to Italy, described as' great among all other regions', which seems unlikely from a Majorcan artist.

Angelino Dulcert, 1339. Two sheets of parchment glued together, mm 1020x750
(Paris, (new window)"> Bibliothèque Nationale de France).
The chart was published in Les Portulans: cartes marines du XIIIe siècle / par Monique La Ronchi et du Jourdin Mollat Michel, Fribourg, Office du Livre, 1984. The book, accompanied by excellent reproductions exemplifying the cartographic belongings of the National Library of France, is accompanied by large comprehensive analytical comments.)