The New World

in Color

From the 1511 Ptolemy Atlas


Bernard Sylvanus,   pseudo-cordiform projection

(Venice 1511)



There was strong interest in further voyages of discovery into the western ocean following the exploration of the New World by Columbus and of Africa and India Vasco da Gama.

In 1501,  an Azorean landowner, Gaspar Corte-Real and his brother Miguel,  set out from Lisbon with a fleet of three ships and reached Newfoundland.  Sylvanus recorded the land-fall of the Corte-Real brothers as "regalis domus" and placed it far east of the Line of Demarcation so as to secure it for Portugal.

In South America, Called  "Terra Sanctae Crucis",  the only place named is Canibaluz Romon.  (The latter word is probably a mis-spelling for "domon" or "dominiom"),  i.e., the domain of cannibalism.  In the Caribbean,  just west of Cuba and Hispaniola  (but on the other side of the map)  lies Japan,  (Zampagu Ins).  Sylvanus apparently looked at the Ruysch map of four years earlier to find a pattern for Japan on his map.  Ruysch did not show Japan,  but rather explained in an inscription that he believed Japan to be the same as one of the islands recently discovered by the Spanish.


This modern map of the world is one of the most important maps of the sixteenth century.

It was only the second one included in an edition of Ptolemy (after the Ruysch’s map in the 1507/1508 edition).  It was also the first map for which a heart-shaped,  or cordiform projection was employed.

This world map and the other maps in the 1511 Ptolemy Atlas were the first to be printed in color.  The capital letters,  in red,  are printed  by means of movable type set into the woodblocks.  The practice of printing maps in color was not pursued,  except for a few isolated attempts,  and did not become common practice until the development of the lithographic process in the the nineteenth century.