Riding the wave


The Majorcan school

Mallorca had a flourishing cartographic school, especially represented by Jewish artists who enjoyed the protection of the Court of Aragon, some of whom moved to Messina, Sicily being the seat of a viceroy and an outpost of the war to Islam.

One of them was probably Mecia de Viladestes - of whom two charts are known - who could be "converted" Macian de Viladestes authorized by a Majorcan decree to move to Sicily in 1401.

His is the parchment signed and dated 1413, which does not specify the origin of the author but has all the features of Catalan cartography: in style it greatly resembles the Catalan Atlas , while the area represented is the same as the Dulcert chart. It is also typical of the Majorcan-Jewish school the interest granted to north-central Africa, with the Maghreb sultans and the Sudanese empire crossed by caravans of gold and salt, heading for towns north of the Sahara, where were located Jewish communities connected to the merchant Catalan world.

Mecia de Viladestes, 1413. Parchment mm 1150x850
(Paris, (new window)"> Bibliothèque Nationale de France).
The chart was published in Les Portulans: cartes marines du XIIIe siècle / par Monique de La Roncière et Michel Mollat du Jourdin, Fribourg, Office du Livre, 1984. The book, accompanied by excellent reproductions of exemplifying the cartographic holdings of the National Library of France, is complete with large comprehensive analytical comments.)

The National Library of France keeps other examples of Catalan cartography: there is a parchment dated 1447, of Gabriel de Vallsecha, cartographer known in Majorca since 1439. It was probably made for Franciscus Lauria, an adviser to the King, whose emblem appears on the chart.

Very famous in the sphere of the Majorcan converts, since 1300, is the name of the Rosselli family, among which Petrus was a prolific cartographer, active between 1447 and 1468, of which six charts are known.

Another cartographer was the Jewish-Majorcan Ibanet Panades, author of a chart signed and dated 1557 near the holy picture in the neck of the parchment, of whom nothing is known except that he was one of the group of artists that reached Sicily during the 16th century.

The chart, very decorative with polychrome roses and striking views of Genoa, Venice and Alexandria, does not present any innovative features compared with the traditional medieval portulan charts, of which it has kept the typical disoriented towards the east, the grid " rhumbs " and many place names, perpendicular to the coastline.

Ibanet Panades, 1557. Parchment, 835x505 mm
(Genoa, Castello D'Albertis)

Much more famous is Joan Martines, whose activity spreads over more than thirty years, between 1550 and 1586, with a production of several scores of charts on parchment, which exhibit the typical characteristics of the Majorcan-Sicilian school, as described above. The chart is part of a group dedicated to the Mediterranean with the Aegean, probably meant as an atlas.

Joan Martines, 1571. Parchment, 447x307 mm
(Genoa, Civico Museo Navale)

An atlas with 14 maps of the known world by Joan Martines is preserved at the Henry E. Huntington Library and Art Gallery, San Marino, California, who placed online 1:1 images.

Matteo Prunes is the best known representative of a family of Majorcan cartographers, active between 1582 and 1651. A chart of his of the Mediterranean is unique because the parchment is much narrower than usual, and the representation of the Mediterranean, with the usual disorientation, is confined to the coastline, though extended to the Atlantic, ignoring the north and south lands. For the rest it shows no innovative elements compared to the charts already signaled, with the usual grid of half-lines centred on multi-colored roses, a striking distance-scale, the views of major cities.

Matteo Prunes, 1571. Parchment, 805x305 mm
(Genoa, Castello D'Albertis)