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The Cantino planisphere (or Cantino World Map) is the earliest surviving map showing Portuguese Discoveries in the east and west. It is named after Alberto Cantino, an agent for the Duke of Ferraramarker, who successfully smuggled it from Portugal to Italymarker in 1502. It is arguably the earliest positively dated map of America and shows the islands of the Caribbean and the Florida coastline, as well as Africa, Europe and Asia, with considerable precision. The map is particularly notable for portraying a fragmentary record of the Brazilianmarker coast, discovered in 1500 by the Portuguese explorer Pedro Álvares Cabral (he correctly conjectured that he had landed on part of a continent previously unknown to Europeans) and subsequently explored by Gonçalo Coelho and Amerigo Vespucci.


In the beginning of the 16th century, Lisbon was a buzzing metropolis where people from diverse backgrounds came in search of work, glory or fortune. There were also many undercover agents looking for the secrets brought by the Portuguese voyages to remote lands. Among them was Alberto Cantino, who was sent to Portugal by the Duke of Ferrara, with the formal intention of horse trading, while secretly collecting information on the Portuguese Discoveries. Cantino’s diligence is shown in two of his letters to the Duke, dated from 17th and 18th of October 1501, where he describes, amongst other things, hearing Gaspar Corte-Real detailing his latest voyage to Newfoundland (Terra Nova) to King Manuel I of Portugal.

Most probably the Cantino Planisphere is a copy of the official prototype existing at Casa da Índia (The House of India), in Lisbonmarker, where the new discoveries made by the Portuguese were recorded, held in secret and named the Padrão Real. It is conjectured that Cantino was able to bribe a certain Portuguese government mapmaker with 12 golden ducats (a considerable amount for the time) to copy this map for him, between December 1501 and October 1502. From a letter signed by Cantino, it’s thought that he sent the map to Duke Ferrara on the 19th of November, 1502. A Latin inscription in the back of the map reads: “Carta de navigar per le Isole nouam trovate in le parte de India: dono Alberto Cantino al S. Duca Hercole”. As a result, this historic cartography work, from an anonymous Portuguese author, was named Cantino Planisphere (or Cantino World Map) – Carta del Cantino (in Italian).

While it enlightened the Italians to many new territories as of yet unknown to them, it was obsolete within months due to subsequent mapping voyages by the Portuguese. Nevertheless, its importance to the Portuguese-Italian trade relations should not be understated; this map provided the Italians with knowledge of Brazil's coastline and that of much of the Atlanticmarker Coast of South America long before other nations even knew South America extended so far to the south. The geographical information given on the Cantino map was copied into the Italian-made Canerio map shortly after the Cantino map arrived in Italy and the Canerio, in turn, became the primary source for the design of the newly discovered western lands on the highly influential wall map of the world produced by Martin Waldseemüller in 1507 under the auspices of Rene, Duke of Lorraine.

This old map, made-up by 3 large glued parchment sheets, was kept in the Ducal Library, Ferraramarker, for about 90 years, until Pope Clement VIII transferred it to another palace in Modenamarker, Italy. More than two centuries later, in 1859, the palace was ransacked and the Cantino Map lost. It was found by Giuseppe Boni, Director of the Biblioteca Estense, in that same year, in a butcher’s store in Modena. The Cantino world map can currently be found in Modenamarker, Italy, at the Biblioteca Estense.


  1. Harvey, p. 145.


  • Harvey, Miles The Island of Lost Maps: A True Story of Cartographic Crime. New York:Random House, 2000. ISBN 0-7679-0826-0. (Also ISBN 0-375-50151-7).
  • Rodrigues, Jorge Nascimento; Devezas, Tessaleno Portugal - O Pioneiro da Globalização. Famalicão, Portugal:Centro Atlântico, 2007. ISBN 978-989-615-042-6.

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