The first printed sea atlas
By SONETTI, Bartolomeo dalli , 1485


  • Author: SONETTI, Bartolomeo dalli
  • Publication place: [Venice
  • Publisher: Guilelmus Anima Mia, Tridinensis
  • Publication date: 1485-6].
  • Physical description: Median 4o (227 by 170mm). Verse dedication to Doge Giovanni Mocenigo (his name disguised in a number-acrostic) and introductory verses, 1/3v woodcut charts with verse descriptions, 7/6v blank). 56 leaves. 37 lines. Type: 1:79GA. 49 woodcut sea charts, two double-page, the remainder full-page. Light foxing mainly in margins, gutter of first leaf repaired, trace of mildew in gutters of first few leaves, insignificant small marginal repairs to first leaf and 2/4-5, slight cropping to 5 woodcuts, traces of erasure to one small island on woodcut 17 (3/2r). Early nineteenth century English close grained red morocco gilt, without his ticket but by Charles Lewis, sides with double gilt fillet border entwining at corners around small closed-petalled fleurons, spine tooled with single-fillet interlace design, wide turn-ins similarly gilt, vellum doublures and endleaves, gilt edges, 9 filler leaves at end joints and extremities rubbed.

    Collation: (112; 28; 36; 410; 56; 68; 76]; leaf 13r without the signature 'b' to the lower right, which is present on the BNF example, thus is possibly an earlier printing.
  • Dimensions: 230 by 164mm. (9 by 6.5 inches).
  • Inventory reference: 17701


The Beckford-Hamilton-Friedlaender copy of the first edition of the first printed maritime atlas. This is the only incunable edition, and the only fifteenth-century book illustrated with nautical charts. Further, as Campbell notes, it also contains the first printed maps supposedly based on actual observation; and it is the first printed collection of maps to owe no debt to Ptolemy.

The Bartolomeo dalli Sonetti is the first in a long series of printed Italian island-books, the Isolario provides a detailed survey of the Aegean archipelago. The 49 charts are accompanied by sonnets describing the islands, hence the author’s name “dalli Sonnetti” (“of the sonnets”). The appealingly decorative charts clearly derive from the portolan manuscript tradition: each chart is projected on a wind-rose marked with compass bearings, the orientation varying from chart to chart; the accepted navigational symbols of portolans are used; and the undemarcated scale bars accompanying 11 of the charts measure the equivalent of two “portolan miles”, according to Nordenskiöld’s calculations. Such conventional similarities would not necessarily contradict the author’s declaration, in his introductory verses (1/3r), that the maps were based on his own observations, but in fact a manuscript prototype for the Isolario exists, in the island-book of Cristoforo Buondelmonte, composed circa 1420.

The untitled charts are identified in the accompanying sonnets, offering “word-pictures” of the islands (Campbell). Still unknown is the identity of “Bartolomeo da li sonetti ” as the author coyly calls himself in the preliminary verses (1/3r), mentioning that he collected his observations as the captain of a ship. Very little is known about Bartolomeo, save what he tells the reader himself in his preface to the work. He was Venetian and served as an officer of triremes in the navy 15 times, and then entered the service of various noble families from the city state. He writes that his naval career means that he has sailed past every island in the Aegean Sea, and he has subsequently compiled this knowledge in his isolario. His personal experience is supplemented by information from the writings of classical authors like Pomponius Mela and Strabo. Two suggested identifications, the mathematician Bartolommeo Zamberti and Bartolommeo de Turco, an associate of Leonardo da Vinci, have been rejected by modern scholars (cf. Campbell, p. 90). Also disguised is the name of the dedicatee, Doge Giovanni Mocenigo, the letters of whose name (“Dvx Zuan Mozenico”) are to be deciphered by substituting roman numerals for the series of number-words in the heading. The Isolario may have been printed after the termination of Mocenigo’s rule on 4 November 1485, but is unlikely to have been printed much earlier.

Guglielmo da Trino (in the Duchy of Monferrat), who called himself “Anima Mia” first appears in association with Antonelli di Barasconi in May 1485, in an edition of Thomas Aquinas, printed with Barasconi’s type (Goff T-238). The earliest recorded edition to appear under Guglielmo’s own imprint is the Paulus Venetus of 11 August 1486 (Goff P-214). The typeface of the Isolario was apparently only used in two other editions, both of a later date: Simon Genuensis, Clavis sanationis, dated 13 November 1486 (Goff S-528), and an edition of Duranti printed a year later (Goff D-432). Taking these facts into account, CIBN’s assignment of this edition to c1486 seems more plausible than ISTC’s “not after 1485”. Anima Mia’s press remained active for a decade, producing a total of 32 or 33 known editions, two or three with partners, of a wide range of theological, grammatical, classical and scientific texts, intended for a market of humanist readers and students of theology and medicine. In a number of copies the maps are coloured and have manuscript place names added; as for many early woodcut books this may have been the intention of the publisher. But “an alternative explanation would be that Venetian craftsmen were not competent to deal with woodcut lettering. In particular, few would have had experience in cutting the cursive inscriptions needed for maps” (Campbell, p. 91). Like all known copies except the second Morgan Library copy, this one is in the second state, with a total of four additional stanzas added, after printing, to pages 2/3v, and 3/4v.

The binding, commissioned by Beckford, who called Charles Lewis “the true Angel of binding,” is characteristic of the strikingly forward-looking style, premonitory of art deco forms of the following century, which Lewis developed during his heyday in the 1820s and 1830s.


1. William Beckford (1759-1844): by descent to his son-in-law:
2. Alexander Douglas-Hamilton, 10th Duke of Hamilton (d. 1852): Hamilton Palace sale, Sotheby’s 30 June 1882, lot 626
3. William Horatio Crawford, of Lakelands, County Cork: bookplate; sale, Sotheby’s 12 March 1891, lot 258 (“matchless copy in red morocco… by C. Lewis”; to Quaritch).
4. (Sotheby’s London, 24 June 1968, lot 10]
5. Marvin Carton sale, Sotheby’s New York, 2 February 1985, lot 46.
6. The Helmut N. Friedlaender Library, Christies New York 23 April 2001, lot 21.


  1. Zacharakis 337/2205.
  2. HCR 2538 = H 14890
  3. BMC V, 410 (IA. 23055-56)
  4. C. F. Bühler, "Variants in the first atlas of the Mediterranean," Gutenberg Jahrbuch 1957, pp. 94-97
  5. Campbell Maps 16-64
  6. CIBN B-119
  7. Essling 1316
  8. IGI 1278
  9. Sander 799
  10. Schäfer/von Arnim 36
  11. The World Encompassed 82
  12. Goff B-183. pp.89 92

Image gallery