Portuguese exploration and trade along the West African coast and to Atlantic islands, encouraged and directed by Prince Henry de Avis, the Navigator, continued throughout the 15th century. He assembled an international team of experts which made revolutionary advances in geography, navigation, and cartography.
Handbooks, guides, and charts, along with the invention of more sophisticated and practical nautical instruments, professionalized what had been largely an intuitive craft. Crucial to these innovations were Muslim and Jewish contributions in mapmaking and navigational instruments. Christopher Columbus went to sea on the crest of these maritime advances.
Theories of the universe first proposed by ancient Greek or Roman philosophers were accepted well into the 16th century. For example, the Vopel globe was based on Ptolemy's idea of an earth-centered universe. Ironically, it was made in 1543, the same year that Nicolaus Copernicus published his heliocentric, or sun-centered, theory of the universe. Caspar Vopel was a master-craftsman of astronomical and navigational tools. He made the sphere encircling the globe so that the seasonal changes in the orbits of the heavenly bodies could be observed. His "nocturnal," or compendium, was used for telling time at night and had several other navigational functions.
Terrestrial and celestial globes and armillary spheres were important educational tools for illustrating the geographical, astronomical, and cosmographical concepts of the Renaissance and the Age of European Discovery. Terrestrial globes both reflected the sphereical nature of the earth and served to document man's changing perception and expanding knowledge of the geography of the earth. Armillary spheres were demonstration models for teaching astronomy and for illustrating the earth's position within the universe.
This finely crafted and well-preserved three-inch terrestrial globe, within a six-inch armillary sphere, mounted on an octagonal brass base, is the work of Caspar Vopel (1511-1561), a teacher of mathematics in Cologne, Germany, and a scholar of wide cosmographical interests. Vopel skillfully drew by hand his portrayal of the earth's surface directly on the globe ball. Of particular historical interest is his portrayal of the uncertainty still prevalent in the first half of the sixteenth century among cosmographers regarding Columbus's contention that he had reached Asia. As shown on the globe, Vopel agreed with the school of thought that North America and Asia were joined as one landmass -- a misconception that continued on some maps until the late sixteenth century.
Vopel's armillary sphere presents a model of the Ptolemaic, or earth-centered, cosmic system. The series of eleven interlocking and overlapping brass rings or armilla, some of which are movable, that make up the armillary sphere are adjustrable for the seasons and illustrate the circles of the sun, moon, known planets, and important stars. The wide ecliptic band includes delicate engravings of the signs of the zodiac. It is interesting to note that 1543 is not only the year of the construction of Vopel's armillary sphere, but it is also the year Copernicus's theory of a heliocentric universe was published, a theory that greatly changed the design of armillary spheres.
By the late fifteenth century an emerging body of literature to facilitate sea travel in the Mediterranean world was available. This early book of sailing directions served as a handy guide for the sailor and a storehouse of practical information for laymen. The use of the hand and zodiac for information was considered vital to the 15th century Mediterranean navigator.
The most poular geographical work to be printed from movable type in the fifteenth century was Ptolemy's Geography or Cosmography. Originally compiled by the Alexandrian geographer, astronomer, and mathematician Claudius Ptolemy in the second century A.D., it was translated from Greek into Latin in Florence, Italy about 1410. The map of the world here reproduced, beautifully illuminated with twelve wind heads, is one of thirty-two maps illustrating the edition of the Cosmographia issued from the press of Lienhart Holle of Ulm, Germany, on July 6, 1482. Holle's edition was the first to be printed north of the Alps and the first to include maps printed from woodcuts. To produce his printed editin, Holle used a manuscript copy prepared under the direction of the Benedictine Monk known as Donnus Nicolaus Germanus.
This world map shows the state of European cartographic knowledge of the world prior to Columbus' 1492 voyage. It reflects the Ptolemaic world view. The old (or known) inhabited world oikoumene is depicted as extending 180 degrees east and west, but in reality it covers only 105 degrees of longitude. This elongation, greatly shortening the unknown portion of the earth, was to influence navigators such as Christopher Columbus for many years. Also depicted is Ptolemy's mistaken notion that the Indian Ocean was an enclosed body of water, an idea that was to be disproved only five years later by the successful rounding of the Cape of Good Hope by Bartholomeu Dias of Portugal.
New information began to find its way into the classical representations then in circulation in Western Europe, and the 1482 world map was no exception. Nicolaus Germanus, for example, extended the map northward to show Iceland (correctly positioned north of the British Isles) and Greenland (incorrectly shown as a peninsula of Europe). Raleigh Skelton in the introduction to the facsimile edition of Claudius Ptolemaeus Cosmographis, Ulm, 1482 (Amsterdam, 1963) noted that this is the "earliest printed delineation of Greenland, Iceland and the North Atlantic [on a world map]; and this was to exercise a potent influence in the cartography of the early 16th century."
The first appearance of a map of America in a Ptolemy atlas occurred in the 1513 Strasbourg edition, which included a series of new maps, based on findings from recent European explorations. Martin Waldseemuller of St. Die began work on this new edition of Ptolemy about 1505 and compiled the maps. In this work, America remains named Terra Incognita and Columbus is credited with informing Fernando and Isabel of its existence.
Continue the Voyage with Christopher Columbus or abandon ship and use the Outline.