History of Cartography

Custom made Portolan - or " Nautical Chart or Nautical Charts "   

This is a picture of a completed Portolan including scrolling with brass knobs, and a level 2 cartouche.  The Portolan is half rolled.

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           The height of decorative cartography was in the 16th and 17th centuries. These hand drawn charts where know as “portolans”.  These where highly decorated and in most cases very inaccurate. 

Custom made Portolan - or " Nautical Chart or Nautical Charts "   

This is a picture of a completed level 2 compass rose depicting all thirty-two cardinal directions.

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            The charts would have a compass rose or wind rose to show at least four of the thirty-two cardinal directions. These points would often times have lines extending from them across the chart (rhumblines) as a reference to the navigator to log wind direction and course bearing. In most charts, there will be in addition to the “rose” a number of other points on the chart that emit the same reference lines.

            The scale on a chart is an invaluable tool for calculation of distance. In all nautical charts there is a scale for nautical miles, and in later charts some of these would include scales in standard miles and or kilometers. Like the roses, scales where generally well decorated with utmost detail to represent the skill of the artist / cartographer. Often times a scale would include a depiction of dividers (a tool for measuring distance).

Custom made Portolan - or " Nautical Chart or Nautical Charts "   

This is a picture of a completed level 2 scale, notice the color and dignity that the artist gives the scale, for many people measure the artist's skill by the beauty of the scale.

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            Most charts would implement the navigational information of latitude and longitude. Latitude runs North and South of the equator while the longitude runs East and West from the Prime Meridian located on Greenwich, England. This information is located on the outer borders of the charts.

            Other information on the chart might be a “cartouche”  which is the main topic or location depicted and information about the cartographer. There can be sub-pictures depicting ships and whales in the sea to cultural and geographic information on land.

Custom made Portolan - or " Nautical Chart or Nautical Charts "   

This is a picture of a completed sub picture depicting the style and type of ship used in that day.  All art on the Portolans are custom and hand-drawn and painted by the artist.

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            Typically these charts where drawn, etched into copper plates, printed, then having the color applied would be distributed accordingly.

             Charts during this time period were prized by the captains the used them. Often times, while looting ships, the charts of the defeated Captain where taken by the victor and would keep them for himself of copy the information onto his own and destroy the originals to prevent being incriminated in his crime. These charts where so valued be these mariners that some ships where looted simply for navigational material.