Ruscelli: Zeno map 1561


Girolamo Ruscelli.  “Septentrionalium Partium Nova Tabula.”  Venice:  Giordano Ziletti, [1561].  6 3/4 x 9 3/8.  Engraving.  Good impression.  Very good condition.  Italian text on verso.


A fine example of the “Zeno map,” one of the most interesting maps from the sixteenth century.  The area depicted is the northern Atlantic extending from Scandinavia to Greenland.  The map is based upon the alleged explorations of Nicolo and Antonio Zeno, whose journal was published by their descendant Nicolo Zeno in 1558.  The voyage was supposed to have taken place in 1380, with the Zeno brothers going to the islands of Frisland, Greenland and Icaria.  On their travels, they heard of lands one thousand miles to the west; Estotiland and Drogio.  These latter lands the Zenos did not visit themselves, but they heard fishermen’s tales which included descriptions of natives sounding much like American Indians and of visits by other Europeans.  This journal is now generally accepted as a fabrication, but many have tried to fit the Zeno account to actual geography.  Whatever its history, the account and its accompanying map were very influential on the mapping of the North Atlantic.

Ruscelli’s map is based directly on the map issued with the original journal, and it is the first obtainable version of the Zeno geography.  The non-existent islands of Frisland and Icaria are shown just below Iceland, and further south are Estotiland and Deogeo.  These latter are drawn running to the edge of the amp, indicating that they might be part of the North American continent.  If the Zeno travels have a basis in fact, these lands may reflect reports of early exploration of the New World.  Whatever its link to reality, this is a graphic image of Renaissance cartography and legend; a truly fabulous map.  (Nordenskiold; p. 52ff.)