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Report on Internship at the Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia

Report by Gloria Moorman, CSR PhD candidate, October 2017

Valorization between Early Atlases and Island Books: October at the Biblioteca Correr, Venice.

‘Il grande centro cartografico del Rinascimento è una città in cui il tema spaziale dominante è l’incertezza e la variabilità, dato che i limiti tra terra e acqua cambiano continuamente: Venezia, dove le carte della Laguna sono sempre da rifare. [...] Al primato dei Veneziani succederà nel Seicento quello degli olandesi, con le loro dinastie di grandi cartografi-artisti come i Blaeu di Amsterdam: altro paese dove i confini tra terra e acqua sono incerti.’[1]

~ Italo Calvino, ‘Il viandante nella mappa’ in Collezione di sabbia (Milan: Mondadori, 2015), pp. 24-25.

The conceptual links between two atlas projects, those of Joan Blaeu (1598/99-1673), active as cartographer in Amsterdam and official mapmaker to the Dutch East India Company (1638-73), and Vincenzo Maria Coronelli (1650-1718), Franciscan Friar and official cosmographer to the Republic of Venice, have formed a recurring and stimulating thread throughout the month I spent in Venice as an intern at the library of the Museo Correr. I was reminded of the connections between Venice and Amsterdam as centres for cartographic print production at the very start of my internship, when I was taken on an introductory tour of the museum’s collections, which include a number of rare Blaeu and Coronelli globes. Their activities as globe-makers are, I believe, just one of the many interesting but largely overlooked parallels between Coronelli and Willem Jansz. Blaeu (1571-1638), founder of the Blaeu publishing firm and father of Joan Blaeu, who in his lifetime attempted to complete Willem Jansz.’s atlas project.

The Blaeus’ famous Atlas major (1662), which may safely be considered the life’s work pursued by both Willem and Joan, contains depictions of the entire inhabited world, to which—ideally—sections on hydrography (treating the seas) and uranography (descriptions of the heavens) would have been added. Only the first geographical section of this immense project was completed in its entirety. Though at the death of Joan Blaeu in December 1673 the Atlas major remained incomplete, the ambitious venture did provide Vincenzo Coronelli with a model he set out to improve. By issuing his Atlante Veneto in subsequent volumes from the end of 1691 onwards, the Venetian cosmographer followed the example of Ortelius, Mercator, and, most specifically, Joan Blaeu. In his atlas, Coronelli intended to organize his publications in a work describing the entire terrestrial globe through astronomical, geographical, and hydrographical drawings, complemented by textual accounts on the most important events in world history up to the moment of its publication. The open-ended character of such a composite publication points to the flexible nature of the atlas format during the seventeenth century. Clearly emulating Blaeu’s Atlas major, Coronelli’s work in eleven volumes blends several editorial genres, including the Venetian isolario (‘Island Book’) and the seventeenth-century town atlas.  

The collections at the Correr library contain a wonderful variety of such early city books and isolari, including Bartolomeo dalli Sonetti’s remarkable island book featuring maps accompanied by texts in rime (Biblioteca Correr, F26 INC). During my first week in Venice, looking at a number of these works made for a smooth transition from my own work on the town atlas and the start of an inventory of the library’s cartographical and geographical holdings. Profound thematic ties exist between the city atlas and the isolario, both of which present geographic microcosms in print compilations intended for a potentially vast readership. A strong sense of serendipity thus characterized my work in Venice, where the divisions between book of maps, news prints, fortress or city views, and geographical treatise seemed to dissolve before my eyes as I identified works by authors such as Blaeu, Coronelli, Ortelius, Mercator, Berlinghieri, Rosaccio, Sanuto, Gastaldi, Münster, and countless others, in the collections of the Correr library. I compiled a tentative, annotated inventory of well over 50 titles related to the atlas genre in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. This is meant to serve as the basis for the digitisation of (parts of) these publications, so they may subsequently be made accessible online via the library’s website. In this way, I hope that my work will stimulate those with an interest in early modern travel and geography to study the works digitally at their leisure whilst it may also stimulate students and scholars to physically visit the Correr’s reading room to inspect the works for themselves. The latter is of particular value since many of the works held at the Correr have unique material features, such as annotations in a single or multiple hands, rare bindings, or paper snippets in print or manuscript that were likely added by individual owners. Although my searches and selections were strongly rooted in my earlier work on the production of cartographic print in Early Modern Italy, I have also received ample support from staff at the Correr library in bibliographical and practical terms.

My stay in Venice ended on a high note when during a conversation with professor Marica Milanesi I came to a conclusion that confirmed what I had gleaned from my day-to-day handling of the rare books: a deeper understanding of the intellectual and creative ties underlying the spread of the atlas throughout early modern Europe may yield new insights into both the commercial and intellectual nature of the genre. The ideological and physical transformations that occurred as early modern atlases were produced, sold, and collected by publishers and purchasers in print centres as far apart as Venice and Amsterdam can be illustrated excellently through parts of the collections held at the Biblioteca Correr. These themes would lend themselves particularly well to a new exhibition uniting maps, books, and globes by Coronelli and the Blaeus from collections in Italy and the Netherlands. Such an exhibition would follow up nicely in the wake of recent exhibitions that focus on globes and maps in isolation. Exemplary in this respect are ‘Sfere del cielo, sfere della terra. Globi celesti e terrestri dal XVI al XX secolo,’ an exhibition held at the Museo Correr at the occasion of the eleventh symposium of the international Coronelli Gesellschaft für Globen- und Instrumentenkunde (Venice, Ateneo Veneto, 28-29 September 2007, accompanied by a catalogue co-edited by Milanesi), and the current exhibition ‘Blaeu’s wereld in kaart,’ curated by Djoeke van Netten (Scheepvaartmuseum, Amsterdam, 14 April - 31 December 2017) which centers on Joan Blaeu’s large-scale world map of 1648. My experiences at the Correr have already proven to provide a wealth of food for thought that will certainly feed into the contextualizing chapters of my doctoral thesis and further work; my month in Venice has, furthermore, inspired me to widen my ideas and expectations for future projects beyond my current postgraduate studies.  

[1] This Calvino essay was kindly suggested to me by Silvia Urbini in Venice; I had previously been made aware of it by Elio Baldi at the start of my doctoral studies in Warwick.