Academic journal article The Geographical Review

WORLDLY CONSUMERS: The Demand for Maps in Renaissance Italy

Academic journal article The Geographical Review

WORLDLY CONSUMERS: The Demand for Maps in Renaissance Italy

Article excerpt

WORLDLY CONSUMERS: The Demand for Maps in Renaissance Italy. By Genevieve Carlton, v and 237; maps, diagrs., bibliog., ill., index. Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press, 2015. $45.00 (cloth), ISBN 9780226255316.

Erasmus, in the 1522 colloquy Convivium religiosum, described a homeowner showing guests the most important room of his house, the library, which had as a central feature a globe hang in the center and maps of every region of the world on the surrounding walls. Though Genevieve Carlton does not mention the most prominent of northern humanists, it is exactly that sense of the value of geographical knowledge to an educated man and of having a room in the house decorated with maps and globes that she finds among well-to-do Venetians in the late-sixteenth century. In a closing chapter, Carlton, relying on the records of who owned maps and on advice manuals, points to the display of maps in Venetian houses as a way to enhance the status--intellectual and social--of the owner. Though for her that was the ultimate impulse for sixteenth-century Italians for having maps in the house, she devotes much of her book to another and critical factor in the wider distribution of cartographic output. She follows Richard Goldthwaite in seeing the Renaissance, normally described as an intellectual movement, as a consumer-led phenomenon. She sets out to demonstrate a massive increase in the number of maps made and sold in sixteenth-century Italy, a growth driven not only by the desire to establish owners' status, but also by the introduction of printing and the expansion of geographical knowledge that typified what was for Europeans "an age of discovery."

This revised dissertation relies on the analysis of data from three large bodies of data: inventories of houses of wealthy deceased Florentines, Venetians, and the specific inventory of the shop of the Florentine mapmaker and retailer, Francesco Roselli. The Venetian civic records run from 1497 to 1631 and include 2,350 inventories, while the Florentine from 1464 to 1531 and include 1,001. The latter Roselli shop had some fifty-eight maps in stock when the business closed in 1528, a uniquely high number and 54 percent of the total that appeared in the inventories from Florence. The size of what was the first business in Europe specializing in the design, printing, and selling of maps obviously skewed the count. Though maps were a central part of Francesco Roselli's work, he and his son and successor, Alessandro, did not hesitate to stock prints of various types as well. Selling them may have been what kept the firm in business for so long. The inventory of Roselli holdings has the added advantage of including prices for many of the maps. The figures offered are the estimates of the officials charged with producing a catalogue, so it is possible that the numbers they produced were not what the maps would have actually fetched on the day of sale. Though it proved hard for Carlton to identify the type and character of maps mentioned in the inventories with certainty, because of the various words sixteenth-century Italians used to describe the many kinds of cartography, she does conclude that in the 3,351 records, there was a total of 1,116 maps and 112 books that likely had maps in them. As printed maps came on the market, she argues prices fell, and production and distribution of maps widened so a broader range of people had access to representations of cities, regions, kingdoms, and even the whole world.

The book is about consumption, not about the politics of maps. While not diminishing the contribution of J. B. Harley and his followers, Carlton wants to know who bought maps, what they thought they were getting, and how they used them. Accuracy, of course a difficult term in dealing with representations of the earth, takes on greater importance for her if one explanation for the rising interest in displaying maps was that Renaissance Europeans knew more about geography than their much admired Greek and Roman predecessors. …

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