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Portolan Charts

Elements of a Portolan


Characteristics in Common

The three portolan charts discussed here are the Albino de Canepa portolan chart from Venice, 1489; the Petrus Roselli chart done in Majorca,1466; and the 1424 Nautical Chart, made by Zuane Pizzigano, a Venetian serving the Portuguese.

The three portolan charts have several characteristics in common. First, they are handwritten and hand painted on vellum.

Along the eastern edge of the three portolan charts are holes which could be used to attach the chart to a wooden roller, around which the chart was to be wrapped, then tied with a thong for carrying, probably in a protective container, on board ship.


Characteristics in Common

In the fifteenth-century portolan charts considered here the winds had merged with the directions of the compass. The eight principal compass bearings, named for the wind directions, became (in Italian): Tramontana (N), Griego (NE), Levante (E), Syrroccho (SE), Mezzodi (S), Garbino (SW), Ponente (W), and Maistro (NW). (Brown 1949, 126). The figure that shows these directions and winds is sometimes called a wind rose, which is not a good name, as was pointed out by Tony Campbell. The preferable term is compass rose. (Campbell 1987, 395).

The 1489 and 1466 portolan charts both have compass roses; the 1424 does not. It should be noted, however, that the rhumb network of the nautical chart itself is a "compass rose."

Rhumb Lines