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Maps known and available before the voyage of circumnavigation

Royal Geographical Society

The great feat of Ferdinand Magellan, completed by Juan Sebastián Elcano, was to circumnavigate the world between 1519 and 1522. They spent some periods crossing an unknown sea, looking up at the celestial bodies and taking advantage of ocean currents at a time when people were ‘using elementary geometric methods to carry out topographic surveys, as well as astronomy to determine positions on the earth’s surface. […] In the first decade of the 16th century, instrument makers perfected the geometric square, made up of a graduated circle and an alidade, which was described for the first time by Georg Reisch in his Margarita Philosophica (1503)’ (R. Núñez de las Cuevas).i
The cartographic tradition begun in the 13th century, portolan charts or nautical charts, survived into the 16th century and beyond.
‘Portolan charts were oriented and courses were plotted using one or more wind roses (predominantly with 16 or 24 winds), the winds from each rose crossing over each other, the letter of the cardinal points and a fleur-de-lis to place emphasis on the North. From each wind emerge radial lines that alter the colours. […] Iberian expansion across the ocean caused this broadening to take on enormous proportions and drove the development of cartography that exceeded the possibilities of portolan charts’ (M. Cuesta Domingo and J. Varela Marcos ).ii
‘If Juan de la Cosa’s mappa mundi and portolan chart was a pioneering representation that provided a picture of the New World in 1500 (and served as a basis for initiating the master map known the Padrón Real), Martín Fernández de Enciso’s work Suma de Geographia (1519) constitutes the starting point when it comes to analysing Spanish cartographic activity for the Americas’ (A. Sánchez Martínez).iii
The mappa mundi which appears to have accompanied it has not survived down to today. Its enumeration of the coasts is the only thing that remains of the 1518 Padrón Real. This work is a clear demonstration of the statement that ‘the cosmography of the 16th century follows two main trends, one being a historical or Strabonian conception, in which the world is considered the theatre of history, and a mathematical or Ptolemaic conception, in which data were favoured in the making of maps’ A. Sánchez Martínez).iv
The Crown of Castile had organised the ‘Padrón Real (1508), into which were meant to be incorporated the surveys of the discoverers, and by which pilots sailing to the Indies would have to steer in future. But at the same time, the maps of the newly founded cities, as well as the lands around them; first, by the founders themselves and mayors of the same, later to illustrate the queries sent by the Crown, or visits arranged by them. […] A nautical cartography of exploration and discovery, perhaps prevailing throughout the 16th century, and managed by the Casa de Contratación (House of Trade) in Seville, thus coincided with another terrestrial cartography, coordinated by the Consejo de Indias (Council of the Indies)’ (A. Palladini Cuadrado).v
Nourished by earlier explorations, such as, for example, that of ‘Solís along the coast of Brazil to the River Plate’, provided information with which ‘the nautical charts prepared for Magellan’s fleet were to be competed, including all the knowledge there was in Castile and in Portugal about the East and West Indies.’ […] ‘The fleet’s books include payments for a large number of nautical charts, and among them, seven made by Rui Faleiro, Magellan’s partner in the enterprise, and others by Nuño García de Toreno, who worked for the Casa de Contratación in Seville, although he was not part of the staff, from 1512. There is debate as to whether his charts numbered eleven or twenty-three. Significant technical support was provided by the collaboration with the Portuguese Pedro and Jorge Reinel, great cartographers, who formed a large planisphere and globe in which the Moluccas appeared in the Castilian hemisphere, and they were aided by another great compatriot of theirs, Diego Ribeiro. ‘The Reinels remained in Castile until 1528, when they returned to Portugal, where they were showered with honours and favours. In Paris, there is a copy of the planisphere dating from around 1519 attributed to Jorge Reinel, which may very easily have been the model for that prepared for Magellan’ (A. Palladini Cuadrado).vi Today it is known as the Miller Atlas (1519), after its discoverer. In addition to the aforementioned Jorge Reinel, its authorship is attributed to his father Pedro, to Lopo Homem, and to the illuminator Antonio de Holanda. On it were mapped with great precision the coasts of the Gulf of Mexico, with the Florida and Yucatan peninsulas, the Pacific coast of Costa Rica and Panama, and it shows the equator and the demarcation meridian of the Treaty of Tordesillas, divided degree by degree, without numbering. The latitude of the Greater Antilles, erroneously situated on earlier maps, appears largely corrected (op.cit.A. Palladini Cuadrado). Artistic quality is combined with elements from earlier works: nautical or portolan charts, maps by Ptolemy and Flemish miniatures, all known in the environment in which the intrepid feat was begun.
i Cf. p. 10, Rodolfo Núñez de las Cuevas (1994–1995), Gerard Mercator, gran reformador de la cartografía del siglo XVI, Boletín de la Real Sociedad Geográfica CXXX-CXXXI, pp. 8–37.
ii Cf. p. 130, Mariano Cuesta Domingo and Jesús Varela Marcos (1994–1995), Descubrimiento de una nueva carta portulana portuguesa, el Portulano de Valladolid, Boletín de la Real Sociedad Geográfica CXXX-CXXXI, pp. 115–159.
iii Cf. p. 167, Antonio Sánchez Martínez (2010), Cartografía en lengua romance: Las cartas de marear en los regimientos y manuales españoles sobre el arte y la ciencia de navegar, Boletín de la Real Sociedad Geográfica CXLVI, pp.161–188.
iv Cf. p. 168, Antonio Sánchez Martínez (2010), Cartografía en lengua romance: Las cartas de marear en los regimientos y manuales españoles sobre el arte y la ciencia de navegar, Boletín de la Real Sociedad Geográfica CXLVI, pp.161–188.
v Cf. p. 9, Ángel Palladini Cuadrado (1990–1991), La cartografía de Indias en el Servicio Geográfico del Ejército, Boletín de la Real Sociedad Geográfica CXXVI-CXXVII, pp. 9–23.
vi Cf. pp. 86–87, Ángel Palladini Cuadrado (1992), La Cartografía de los Descubrimientos, Boletín de la Real Sociedad Geográfica CXXVIII,pp.61–92.