1598 Magini Map of Sumatra/ Sri Lanka according to Ptolemy

Tavola Duodecima Dell'Asia - Main View

1598 Magini Map of Sumatra/ Sri Lanka according to Ptolemy


The Most Distant island Mapped in Ptolemy's Era


Tavola Duodecima Dell'Asia
  1598 (undated)     9.25 x 7 in (23.495 x 17.78 cm)


This is Giovanni Antonio Magini's map of Taprobana, appearing in his 1598 Italian edition of Ptolemy's Geographia. This island represented, for Ptolemy, nearly the limit of European geographic knowledge: later geographers typically identified the island as Sri Lanka, though Munster, Mercator and others speculated that the better candidate was Sumatra. The map is oriented to the north and includes not only ‘Taprobana’ but also twenty surrounding islands. The mainland appears above and on the right of the map, which would correspond to the Malay peninsula were the map correctly identified with Sumatra, although the map roughly adheres to Sri Lanka's teardrop shape. To the left of the map is an attractively-engraved illustration of an elephant, and eleven lines of text describing the pepper trade - explicitly identifying the island as Sumatra. Magini joins Gastaldi, and Ruscelli in following the model of Münster, whose version of this map in his own edition of Ptolemy contained these same elements.

Magini's Italian letterpress text below the engraved map describes the island, its people, and its produce.
What is Tapobrana?
The first mention of Tapobrana is in the Geographia of Claudius Ptolemy. Today, Ptolemy's Taprobana is considered by some scholars to be entirely mythological and by others to be a wild misinterpretation of either Sumatra or Sri Lanka. Whatever the case may be, the island was mentioned by Marco Polo, who describes is as an enormous landmass:
It has a circumference of some 2400 miles. And I assure you that it used to be bigger than this. For it was once as much as 3500 miles, as appears in the mariners' charts of this sea. But the north wind blows so strongly in these parts that is has submerged a great part of this island under the sea.
This led many early cartographers to over-map the island, exaggerating its size and importance. To give this map some scale, the line running horizontally through the center of this map is the Equator (Aequinoctial), meaning that Munster's Taprobana extends from the southern tip of the subcontinent south well beyond the equator - a factor that would make it nearly as large as India
Publication History and Census
This map first appeared in Magini's 1598 (and only) edition of Ptolemy's Geography. The book is well represented in institutional collections, but the separate map is catalogued only once in OCLC.


Giovanni Antonio Magini (June 13, 1555 - February 11, 1617) was an Italian astronomer, astrologer, cartographer, and mathematician. Born in Padua, he completed his studies in philosophy in Bologna in 1579. In 1588 he was chosen over Galileo Galilei as the chair of mathematics at the University of Bologna after the death of Egnatio Danti. Magini was a prolific writer, putting forth theories of celestial motion (he was a supporter of a geocentric solar system), the use of quadrants in surveying and astronomy, and trigonometry. In 1608, Magini produced the first map of Italy to improve on that of Gastaldi: his meticulously researched and beautifully engraved 8-sheet Italia Nuova was hugely influential: upon its publication, Blaeu promptly copied it to produce his own wall map of Italy; the rest of the mapmaking establishment swiftly followed suit. Consequently, virtually every 17th century map of Italy can be identified as a derivative of Magini's monumental achievement. His atlas, Atlante geografico d’Italia, was published posthumously by his son in 1620. This work was intended to include maps of every Italian region with exact nomenclature and historical notes. He also served as court astrologer for the Duke of Mantua. Learn More...

Claudius Ptolemy (83 - 161 AD) is considered to be the father of cartography. A native of Alexandria living at the height of the Roman Empire, Ptolemy was renowned as a student of Astronomy and Geography. His work as an astronomer, as published in his Almagest, held considerable influence over western thought until Isaac Newton. His cartographic influence remains to this day. Ptolemy was the first to introduce projection techniques and to publish an atlas, the Geographiae. Ptolemy based his geographical and historical information on the "Geographiae" of Strabo, the cartographic materials assembled by Marinus of Tyre, and contemporary accounts provided by the many traders and navigators passing through Alexandria. Ptolemy's Geographiae was a groundbreaking achievement far in advance of any known pre-existent cartography, not for any accuracy in its data, but in his method. His projection of a conic portion of the globe on a grid, and his meticulous tabulation of the known cities and geographical features of his world, allowed scholars for the first time to produce a mathematical model of the world's surface. In this, Ptolemy's work provided the foundation for all mapmaking to follow. His errors in the estimation of the size of the globe (more than twenty percent too small) resulted in Columbus's fateful expedition to India in 1492.

Ptolemy's text was lost to Western Europe in the middle ages, but survived in the Arab world and was passed along to the Greek world. Although the original text almost certainly did not include maps, the instructions contained in the text of Ptolemy's Geographiae allowed the execution of such maps. When vellum and paper books became available, manuscript examples of Ptolemy began to include maps. The earliest known manuscript Geographias survive from the fourteenth century; of Ptolemies that have come down to us today are based upon the manuscript editions produced in the mid 15th century by Donnus Nicolaus Germanus, who provided the basis for all but one of the printed fifteenth century editions of the work. Learn More...


Magini, G. A. La quale, oltra l'Antiche Tavole d'esso Tolomeo, contiene le Moderne ancora, che monstrano la faccia di tutta la Terra, infino à questa nostra età conosciuta Venice, 1598    


Very good condition. Some faint stainins.


OCLC 234202513.