Ptolemy's Exquisite Geographia

In the 2nd century, Claudius Ptolemy described all that was known in the Roman Empire about the world’s geography in his Geographia. Of the 49 editions of Geographia printed from 1475 to 1730, the JCB has all but two. Thanks to the generous support of the Pine Tree Foundation and the Luther I. Replogle Foundation, Allison Rich (the Library’s rare book cataloger) cataloged all 47 of our editions with important details of each.

For instance, the first printed Latin translation of the Geographia, was printed in Vicenza, Italy in 1475 by Hermannus Liechtenstein and did not include maps. The maps in the editions after 1477 are woodcuts or engravings. The Bologna, 1477 edition printed by Dominicus de Lapis contains some of the earliest known engravings made from copper plates, executed by Taddeo Crivelli. Other editions have maps created from woodblocks, such as the Ulm, 1482 issue, printed by Lienhart Hol.

Of the various editions held by the JCB, only 11 have hand-coloring. None is more magnificent than the Amsterdam, 1605 edition printed by Cornelius Nicolaus and Jodocus Hondius. The 28 Ptolemaic old world maps are engraved by Gerhard Mercator (1512-1594) and previously appeared in the Cologne, 1578 and 1584 editions printed by Gottfried von Kempen. The hand-coloring is finely executed in vibrant hues which appear not only on all the maps in the volume but also on the ornate engraved border of the title page and the engraved portrait of Mercator in the prefatory pages.