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The Portolan Chart of the Mediterranean World

Mateo Prunes (1532-1594) was a mapmaker and prolific member of a family of Mallorcan cartographers who lived and worked here from the early sixteenth to the late seventeenth centuries. The cartographer specialized in portolan charts, navigational maps based on realistic descriptions of harbors and coasts. The Portolan Chart of the Mediterranean World (see photo) shows the Mediterranean Sea, the Black Sea, part of the Red Sea, the Atlantic coast of Africa from Cape Spartel to Senegal, and the European coast to northern Scandinavia. This colorful one-of-a-kind portolan chart was drawn on the skin of a single sheep in 1559.

I came across a reprint of this chart in an exhibition in Portocolom on the life and death of Christopher Columbus (Cristóbal Colom y Mallorca). The exhibition curator, Gabriel Verd Martorell, claims that Columbus was born in Mallorca, was the illegitimate son of a son of the King Juan II de Aragon and used a similar portolan chart designed by Mallorcan cartographers for his seafaring voyage to India. Please bear in mind that in 1492 no world maps existed showing the oceans and any possible connections between the continents. The New World was still waiting to be discovered.

Even though the exhibition looks rather cheap and shabby in its presentation, the documents and exhibits on display make for some interesting food for thought. You might want to have a look for yourself.

The image was borrowed from the Internet, courtesy of (Library of Congress). I understand that the original vellum chart is owned by the Museo Naval in Madrid.

Thank you very much.

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