Essential Information

National Maritime Museum

18 Jun 2012

Our next item of the month is the Isolario of Bartolomeo ‘Dalli Sonetti’.

It is certainly well known that the National Maritime Museum holds a superb and precious collection of objects, paintings and manuscripts. However, it is not as well known that among the Museum’s Library and Manuscript collections are valuable, occasionally priceless, rare books, charts and atlases. One of them is the Isolario of Bartolomeo ‘Dalli Sonetti’ (NMM Ref. PBD6073).

Bartolommeo Dalli Sonetti’s Isolario, Per Monte SanctoIsolari (books of islands), produced during the 14th to 16th centuries, are maps of the Mediterranean islands that were used on board ships. They served the function of indicating to sailors where shallow waters and reefs might be found. The books also describe the coastline, highlighting major buildings and mountain ranges. In some cases Isolari were also accompanied by geographical and historical information. This made the maps more like manuals for educated readers, not to mention a part of the personal fortune of wealthy gentlemen. Moreover, in exceptional examples, the observations that accompanied the Isolari had a distinctive, poem-like structure.

This is the case in an Isolario dating from 1485. The work was written by a Venetian that some authorities identify with Bartolomeo Zamberti, while others recognize the author as Bartolommeo Turco, a friend of Leonardo da Vinci. In the Isolario, over 70 sonnets give readers geographical, historical and archaeological descriptions of each of the Aegean islands. The sonnet referring to Rhodes includes a reference to the Colossus of Rhodes. Charts are depicted next to each of the verses. The charts themselves, surrounded by the rose of eight winds circle, have symbols indicating rocks and shallow waters and, on the land, forests, villages and monasteries. It was the written verse in Bartolomeo’s Isolario that gave the author the epithet of ‘Dalli Sonetti’, ‘The Sonnets’.

Bartolommeo Dalli Sonetti’s Isolario is an extraordinary and precious item. Tony Campbell commented that ‘it is the first printed island-book; it is the earliest printed collection of charts, even if they are very localized; it contains the first printed maps supposedly based on actual observation; and it is the first printed collection of maps to owe no debt to Ptolomy’ Campbell, Maps, 89-92 (NMM Ref. PBA3423).

The first edition of Bartolomeo’s work (with woodcut charts) was printed in Venice circa 1485 by Guilelmus de Panceretto Tridinensis (called Anima mia). The ‘Dalli Sonetti’ Isolario held by the Caird Library was produced the same year.

If you would like to know more about early maps, we have a range of resources in our library collections:

  • Bartolommeo ‘Dalli Sonetti’, Isolario (with an introduction by Frederick R. Goff), PBB5650.
  • Tony Campbell, The earliest printed maps 1472-1500, PBA3423.
  • R. W. Shirley, The mapping of the world early printed world maps 1472-1700, PBN9250.

These will be available to readers on request in the Caird Library from the resumption of full service (please check our website for updates on progress:

Sonia, Library Assistant

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