The Hispanic Society’s collection of over forty portolan charts and atlases, or manuscript sailing charts, dating from the 15th through 18th centuries, is one of the finest in the Americas. This collection is shared between the Library and the Department of Prints & Photographs.
The earliest portolan chart, drawn by Jacobus de Giroldis in 1447 at Venice, typifies late medieval cartography in its delineation of the coasts of the Mediterranean Sea, the Black Sea, and the Atlantic Ocean. Other 15th-century portolans of the Mediterranean include Petrus Roselli’s chart dated 1468 at Majorca and Nicolaus de Nicolo’s of 1470 of the eastern Mediterranean that emphasizes the Adriatic Islands and the lagoons of Venice, the sole extant work by this cartographer.
The most famous charts in the collection date from the Age of Exploration, such as the renowned map of the world created in Seville in 1526 by Juan Vespucci, nephew of Amerigo. Important charts of the New World also are found in an atlas by Giovanni Battista Agnese produced at Venice circa 1550; an atlas by Joan Martines signed and dated at Messina in 1562; and an exceptional atlas from circa 1585, prepared by an anonymous Portuguese cartographer from the school of Luís Teixeira. This atlas is notable in that it includes one of the earliest depictions of the rich silver mines of Potosí, Bolivia. Figuring prominently among later works are two atlases of coastal charts of Brazil dated 1670 and 1675, by the Portuguese cartographer João Teixeira Albernaz II and an anonymous illustrated pilot’s guide, Derrotero general del Mar del Sur (Panama, 1684), which depicts the Pacific coast of the Americas. The Society also owns a map of the northern provinces of New Spain, present-day northern Mexico and the United States west of the Mississippi, compiled in Mexico in 1728 by Francisco Alvarez Barreiro, which represents the first map of Texas and the southwest United States based on the direct observations of a trained cartographer.