Cantino's Map

Alternate Titles:

La Carta del Cantino, Cantino-Weltkarte, Cantino-Planisphäre

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Alternate Titles

La Carta del Cantino

Extent / Format

1 map / 220.0 x 105.0 cm


Alberto Cantino

Former owners

Estense Court of Ferrara

Short description

Cantino’s Map was produced in Portugal in 1502. It describes the state of Portuguese discoveries ca. 1500. The map was named after Alberto Cantino, a spy who worked for the Italian Duke of Ferrara at the court of the Portuguese King Emanuel the Fortunate. Cantion successfully smuggled the modern map from Portugal to Italy and to present the new geographic findings to his duke.

Facsimile editions available


Cantino's Map

Portuguese seafaring was advancing worldwide in the 15th century. No other country could record as many discoveries and successful expeditions as Portugal. The Kingdom of Portugal was among the most important colonial powers worldwide. In the course of the numerous discoveries of unknown lands and new geographic regions, the most important cartography school in Europe developed in Portugal. The masterful Cantino’s Map outstandingly illustrates the state of Portuguese discoveries ca. 1500. The hand-drawn maps show the landmasses known at that time and is illustrated by vividly colored decorative elements.

The Spy Alberto Cantino

Alberto Cantino was officially a diplomat of the Italian trading house of Duke Ercole I d’Este of Ferrara at the court of the Portuguese King Emanuel the Fortunate. Unofficially, Cantino’s primary objective above all else was the procurement of information regarding the Portuguese discoveries and expeditions. Thus he reported about the Gaspar Corte-Real, whose voyage of discovery abducted people and hauled them back to Portugal. In this regard, two letters to the Duke from the 17th and 18th of October, 1501 still survive. The spy was made famous for the map that bears his name. In the year 1502, he managed to smuggle the Portuguese map into Italy for the Duke of Ferrara.

A Special Map

The world map by Alberto Cantino is considered to be particularly noteworthy, because it illustrates a part of the Brazilian coast. This was discovered by the Portuguese seafarer Pedro Álvares Cabral ca. 1500. He postulated that he had discovered a new continent previously unknown to Europeans. It was first confirmed later, that this was a part of the same continent, which various Spanish explorers, e.g. Amerigo Vespucci, had already discovered farther to the north. Beyond that, the maps contained findings from the journeys of Christopher Columbus in the Caribbean, of Vasco de Gama and later Pedro Álvares Cabal to East Africa and India, as well as Gaspar Corte-Real and Miguel Corte-Real to Greenland and Newfoundland. The map documents the great deeds of the Portuguese explorers in the finest detail.

The Turbulent History of the Splendid Map

It is assumed that Cantino’s Map is an exact copy of a world map, which is designated the with the title Royal Standard and which was kept secret from the public. It is also assumed that Cantino was able to bribe one of the Portuguese cartographers into making him a copy. The map provided the Italian with knowledge of the Brazilian coast, and this part of South America therewith, long before other nations generally became aware that South America stretched itself far southward. This map probably served as an important source for the world-famous Waldseemüller Map of 1507, the first world atlas ever.

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