Albertin de Virga's missing world map
TITLE: de Virga's World Map
DATE: 1411 - 1415
AUTHOR: Albertinus de Virga
DESCRIPTION: This circular world map is painted on a piece of parchment
measuring about 69.6 x 44 cm, with an extension, or neck, attached on the
left-hand side. The world map proper, 41 cm in diameter, extends over two-thirds
of the overall parchment. The remaining part, the extension or neck, is occupied
by a calendar and two tables with inscriptions relating to the calendar. Between
the map and its figure there is a mention in small characters - A. 141 .
Albertin diuirga me fecit in vinexia, the last number of the date having been
erased by a fold in the parchment. That notwithstanding, the parchment is
generally in good condition with some folds and tears that inhibit its
readability. The right side carries some tears which indicate that the map was
nailed on this side to a wooden piece around which it was evidently rolled. The
whole map is framed with a double line and the laced corners between the figures
are adorned with oriental-style decoration.
Oriented with North at the top, the world map contains a wind rose with eight
divisions, the center of which is situated on the western shores of the Mar
Capara [Caspian Sea] the northern division is marked with a star and the eastern
division is marked by a cross.
The map is in color with the seas left white, except for the Red Sea which is
colored in vermillion. The landmasses are colored in yellow, although the
islands are in a variety of colors; the mountains are in a greenish-brown, the
lakes in blue, and the rivers are colored brown. The names of various locations
are written in either red or black ink, always on the inside of a small box or
cartouche. These are sometimes capped by a crown or by a picture of a castle,
which indicates the principle countries or kingdoms.
The continental landmass is surrounded by a large expanse of ocean which several
times mentions Mari Oziano magno. The Holy Land, marked with the names of Jordan
and Gorlan [Jerusalem], does not, as many previous medieval maps, exactly occupy
the center of the map. The three known continents, Europa, Africa, and Axia,
underlined on the map for emphasis, are harmoniously placed (in part) around the
Mediterranean Sea, drawn tolerably with exactness like the European portolan
[nautical] charts, and (on the other hand) around the Indian Ocean, which is
decorated with multi-colored archipelagos similar to the Arab maps. According to
its principle commentator Von Wieser, the de Virga map presents itself in some
ways "like a compromise between the classical medieval world maps and the map of
The influence of the Genoan and Catalonian nautical maps is marked particularly
by the detailed indications of the then recently discovered islands in the
Atlantic, the Canaries and the Azores. Africa is decorated with the common
representation of the Atlas Mountains, which spread over the northern part of
Africa like a serpent, and by the Mountains of the Moon towards the south which
surrounds twice the region where the Ylon [the river Nile] and several other
rivers flow. A large gulf which opens into the ocean carries the notation Dara
Four Asiner close to some islands. Some crowns in Africa are accompanied by the
mention of Pre. Yoanes [Prester John of Ethiopia], Muya, and a castle of
Icalmcsa [Sidjilmassa, from the Sahara].
In Asia, most of the regional notations are consistent with Mongolian
domination, a crown with the notes Medru, Calcar, Monza sede di sedre [the Mangi
of northern China], and Bogar Tartarorum [the Great Bulgarian or Golden Horde].
There is also a plan for fortifications marked simply M[on]gol [Caracorum, in
Greater Asia]. On the shores of the Indian Ocean there are the kingdoms of
Mimdar and Madar [Malabar ?], along with many islands with the following note
which, without a doubt, relates to Sri Lanka/Ceylon: Ysola d alegro suczimcas
magna. In the southeast, out in the middle of the Indian Ocean, is a large
island provided with the note: Caparu sive Java magna, which includes in only
one piece of land the distinct geographic features of Zipangu [Japan] and of
Java, gathered from Marco Polo.
In northern Europe, beyond the note placing the location of Ogama, Goga [Gog and
Magog] de Virga notes several places such as the kingdoms of Rotenia [Russia],
Naia, Samolica, and, in the middle of a large promitory and notched de Virga
indicates the furthest limits of the known world north of Denmark and Scotland,
the kingdom of Norveca [Norway].
As for the calendar appended to the world map, it shows the figure of a child
whose body parts correspond to the twelve signs of the Zodiac, a classic
representation of a miniature Adam. On the left is a table of 100 letters,
alternating black and red, which allows the reader to calculate the date of
Easter as either 2 April 1301 or 18 April 1400. On the right, a checker pattern
determines the seasons. This entire portion of the parchment, separate from the
map proper, seems to have been copied from part of some astronomical tables
dating from the beginning of the 14th century.
The map's designer, Albertin de Virga, a Venetian, is not well known otherwise.
It is known that he is also the author of a nautical map of the Mediterranean
Sea, of the classical type, which has flowery ornamentation similar to this
world map and signed in the same way: A. 1409 . . . in venexia.
Destombes, M., Mappemondes, A.D. 1200 - 1500, pp. 205-207.