In 1482, the Florentine humanist and statesman Francesco Berlinghieri produced the Geographia, a book of over one hundred folio leaves describing the world in Italian verse, inspired by the ancient Greek geography of Ptolemy. The poem, divided into seven books (one for each day of the week the author “travels” the known world), is interleaved with lavishly engraved maps to accompany readers on this journey.
Sean Roberts demonstrates that the Geographia represents the moment of transition between printing and manuscript culture, while forming a critical base for the rise of modern cartography. Simultaneously, the use of the Geographia as a diplomatic gift from Florence to the Ottoman Empire tells another story. This exchange expands our understanding of Mediterranean politics, European perceptions of the Ottomans, and Ottoman interest in mapping and print. The envoy to the Sultan represented the aspirations of the Florentine state, which chose not to bestow some other highly valued good, such as the city’s renowned textiles, but instead the best example of what Florentine visual, material, and intellectual culture had to offer.
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Sean Roberts is the 2014-2015 Robert Lehman Fellow at Villa I Tatti, The Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies.Review:
"this compact, meticulous, and captivating study...contributes greatly to our knowledge of early Italian printmaking and visual culture. The author's analysis moves beyond matters normally associated with Renaissance printmaking to consider the social context in which the book was produced and its role within diplomatic exchange. Its scholarly reach provides a compelling model for how early Italian printmaking might be approached by asking different questions of printed material."
Mark McDonald - Print Quarterly
"As calls to interdisciplinarity are becoming increasingly common rhetoric in academia, Roberts makes us rediscover a tradition that challenges and problematizes modern compartmentalized knowledge...a truly outstanding book that will certainly speak to a variety of scholars across the humanities and broaden the disciplinary and intellectual horizons of many."
Veronica Della Dora - H-Net Reviews
"Roberts elegantly written discussion reveals the importance of Berlinghieri's finely-crafted book as, at once, an object of politics and cultural status, Florentine skill in bookmaking, Europe's intellectual reach, a statement about Ottoman power, and expression of the mutual benefits of trade and geographical knowledge for the Ottomans and the Florentines...Modern understanding of the geography of the Renaissance will be enlivened by this authoritative book about the authority invested in books."
Charles WJ Withers - Cultural Geographies
"In his detailed examination of Berlinghieri's book as material object, Roberts reveals its liminal quality between the cultures of manuscript and print. He also provides an illuminating view of an early effort in the new technology of copperplate engraving...this is a valuable study that demonstrates the usefulness of examining the production and context of a single (and in this case especially fascinating) book."
Pamela Long - American Historical Review
"The end result is a vivid picture of a political and intellectual culture whose engagement with geographical knowledge challenges many assumptions concerning Renaissance scholarship and early modern interactions between Muslim and Christian powers."
Nicholas Popper - Geographical Review
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