(star review) In the closing centuries of Europe's medieval age, that backward, isolated continent belatedly turned its gaze outward in search of trade and conquest. From that era of discovery came the Portolan charts, precursors of modern maps. Reproduced here in lavish full-color plates, this display of Portolan maps, many preserved at the National Library of France, documents Europe's expanding consciousness, its fumbling from blinkered ignorance to illumination and brief global dominance. The authors provide the historical context for these documents; the main body of the text is organized geographically, from the Mediterranean--so long the focus of insular European civilization--to the lands across the Atlantic and finally the traditional centers of human civilization on the far side of the Indian Ocean. Also included are appendices ranging from a lengthy bibliography to a full accounting of authors and photographers. From their roots in the 13th century to final decline in the 17th century, Portolan maps enshrined knowledge in works of magnificent artistry; the text and the high-resolution photographs document this flowering of creativity and curiosity. The work stands as one of scholarly love, like the maps themselves a grand partnership between abstract knowledge and concrete images. (Publishers Weekly
Portolan charts, so called from the Italian porto lano, meaning "related to ports or harbours," were created during the 12th century. They were drawn on parchment and crisscrossed with lines indicating compass directions for ports and anchorages and were used by Europeans exploring the world up until the 18th century. Not only used as navigational aids by those afloat they were also produced for wealthy sponsors in the form of illuminated images to illustrate economic and political interests of the major European sea powers. This book takes stock of the state of knowledge on these maps... Hofmann, Richard and Vagnon have carried out an amazing task bringing together this collection of 300 high quality illustrations from a multitude of sources including the National Library of France which holds 500 examples of exceptional quality. (FLASH Summer 2014
(Best Book of 2013: Non-Fiction) This is much more than a book of maritime maps. It is, in essence, a book of the art and charts of the European maritime community between the 13th and 18th centuries and it's a wonderful thing, indicating magical lost and imagined places as well as what was known of the world at the time. I think I'll be "reading" this one forever. (Aaron Blanton January Magazine
This work is for the maritime enthusiast. Included are essays by a number of European authorities who elaborate upon locations, styles, and evolution of portolan charts from the late Middle Ages to the Age of Discovery. The early portolans were 12th-centu (G. J. Martin, emeritus, Southern Connecticut State Choice
A must-have for anyone interested in cartography, especially in the Age of Exploration. The detail is great and allows the reader a close-up view of maps from the time period. In addition, the authors have highlighted sections of maps, for an even closer view. A great reference book! (Calliope Magazine
The color reproductions are excellent, and the maps chosen here are both aesthetically beautiful and historically interesting. (ProtoView
Beautifully designed... it is difficult to not pick it up and be sucked into this historical journey of the golden age of mapmaking that told the story of European exploration around the world. You will truly find a new appreciation for those who traveled by land and sea without the aid of modern technologies and get a deeper sense of their inner thinking of what the world was like and just how imaginative people truly are. (Kim Heimbuch San Francisco Book Review
About the Author
Catherine Hoffman, a paleographic archivist, is chief curator in the Department of Maps and Plans of the National Library of France. She is a board member of the journal Imago Mundi, and has published fifteen articles on the history of cartography in the modern era.
Hélène Richard, a paleographic archivist, is a former director of the Department of Maps and Plans at the National Library of France. In addition to her research on the history of books and libraries, she has published works on the history of maritime exploration in the 18th and 19th centuries and the associated nautical science.
Emmanuelle Vagnon holds a PhD in history, specializing in maps of the Middle Ages. She is senior researcher at the French National Centre for Scientific Research and the University of Paris.