Venetian Cartography

The principal focus of a cartography time-line, its history, is to create a mapping between the physical world and the inner mental vision in human terms. Maps date from ancient times, even if they have only become widespread around the European Renaissance. As a graphical representation of spatial and temporal data, they do not have to face limitations of uncommon languages. Upon their construction and approach in depicting the surroundings, maps give importance to historical events. A historical significance of a map is to represent both space and experiences involved, such that understanding outdated maps requires knowledge about the physical world, but also the cartographer, events, users.

By analyzing medieval Europe maps, and in particular Venice maps, it is clear that the focus was not on accuracy, on details and purposes that today may seem important, but rather on depicting particular areas and connecting places with events.

The first evidence of Venice mapping that was encountered for this research dates back to the sixteenth century, when cartographers were collaborating. Many of the early Venetian map-makers were also closely related to book trade. Furthermore, there can be noted a preference for woodcut maps. At the time, one of Venice’s earliest cartographers, Benedetto Bordone (1460-1551) published the book “Libro de Benedetto Bordone, nel qual si ragiona de tutte L’isole del mondo”, containing 111 of these woodcut maps. Published in 1528, it was considered an island book – a new genre of books, firmly established after Bordone’s successful publication. This genre became known as an Italian, and more specifically, a Venetian specialty. Bordone was also known to be an astrologer, miniaturist and engraver.

Woodcut maps were preferred by other cartographers as well: Giovanni Andrea, Matteo Pagano (~1515-1588) and Giacomo Gastaldi (1500-1565), have all worked with woodcut mapping. Cartographers at that time were generally active wood engravers as well as publishers. They often worked in collaboration, such that there are many similarities between map works in a limited time range. Gastaldi was not only an Italian cartographer, but also an astronomer and engineer. He worked in collaboration with Pagano, but he was also used as a source by many other cartographers: Francesco Camocio, Ferdinando Bertelli, Paolo Forlani, Fabio Licinio and Bolognino Zaltieri. Among these, we notice Paolo Forlani (flourished from 1560-1571), who was a copper plate engraver and publisher. He was a source of inspiration for Donato Bertelli’s work. Bertelli (1558-1592) was a Venetian publisher and map seller.

Comparing the Venice maps by Bordone – published in 1528 and by Bertelli – published in 1566, about 40 years later, the improvement in localizing details, establishing orientation, distances is definitely noticeable, but the level of detail is also higher: more buildings are depicted, more details on surroundings, and one notable aspect: only the latter map contains a depiction of the San Michele Island.

Starting from the sixteenth century, many German cartographers have worked on Venice mapping as well, however the focus here is only on Venetian cartographers; The German cartographers’ work will only be presented in the final map morphing, using a large number of maps acquired. Other cartographers and respectively their maps at the time worth mentioning are: Bolognino Zaltieri(1555-1576) with a map of Venice published in 1565. Taking advantage of the used colors, the absence of modern road links to mainland is prominent. Thomasso Porcacchi (1530-1585) was also a cartographer who worked and published in Venice. Inspired by Giovanni Francesco Comocio and Girolamo Porro (1520-1604), he worked on his book “L’Isole Piu famose del Mondo” (Pocked-sized atlas of the world), published in 1572. Giacomo Franco was another cartographer of the sixteenth century, who worked as an engraver and publisher as well. His book “Viaggio da Venetia a Constantinopoli per Mare”, published in 1597, contains a collection of illustration, some of which represent maps of Venice.

To better analyze the transformation in mapping, an image morphing sequence between maps was created. The idea behind map morphing is to get a sequence of intermediate images that better depict the changes from one map to the other. Using this method, the color of each pixel is interpolated over time from the first map value (map which is dated as older) to the corresponding second map values (more recent map). The process is further repeated for multiple maps, as to create a sequence ranging over a desired period of time. The main differences in map creation and transformations between maps in time are thus more visible.

Venice Map Transformation between 1528 and 1565(6) Gif (open in new window)
Venice Map Transformation between 1528 and 1565(6) [Gif – open in new window]
What can be noticed for the sixteenth century (and specifically in the maps chosen for this research) is that the interest in maps was focused towards illustrative and practical purposes. Maps were conveying general information about Venice, depicting buildings of great importance, or having practical goals such as enabling navigation. As many cartographers have used as source of inspiration one another, sixteenth century Venice maps were generally constructed in a similar way. They use an angular perspective (bird’s view), which distorts the map, and most importantly, they highlight key aspects of the landscape with specific symbol and practical value. In the video below we can observe these similarities between maps of the sixteenth century.


Not many Venetian cartographers have further pursued the map-making of Venice in the next centuries, as this industry has mostly been continued by German cartographers. Some of these were: Jacobus van der Schley, Karl Weiland, Homann Erben, Joseph Kier, H.F. Munster, W.B. Clarke.

Vincenzo Coronelli (1650-1718) was one of the few Venetian cartographers and globe makers of the seventeenth century. He became the Cosmographer to the Republic of Venice in 1685, and set up a globe-making workshop in the convent of Venice in 1686. For the eighteenth century, some of the cartographers who have contributed to Venice mapping are Giambattista Albrizzi (1698-1777) and Antonio Zatta (1757-1797).

With the end of the seventeenth century, cartographers have changed their vision of mapping, and started using a projection perspective, giving a more accurate depiction of Venice. When comparing multiple maps of the eighteenth century, although the level of detail might differ, the proportions remain mostly constant and accurate.


We have looked closely at how places of important significance around Venice were depicted in early maps. Below, we make a comparison between a map from 1641 by Matthaus Merian and the current Google Earth map of Venice, and notice any similarities or differences there may be. As an overview, the most significant difference is the aspect ratio of the two maps. The former map is closely depicting Venice, however distances and different areas are highly exaggerated. One aspect of the evolution of the environment is the presence of rail/roads, which can only be observed in the current map.

Venice, Matthäus Merian, 1641 vs Google Earth 2014
Venice, Matthäus Merian, 1641 vs Google Earth 2014

In the next images, a comparison between past and present depiction of relevant places is created. Notice important buildings carefully depicted in woodcut maps, and their current representation as 3D reconstruction. All of them are highly detailed, and meticulously created.

St Mark’s Square; St. Mark’s Basilica; Doge’s Palace;
St Mark’s Square; St. Mark’s Basilica; Doge’s Palace;
Church of San Giorgio Maggiore
Church of San Giorgio Maggiore
Rialto Bridge
Rialto Bridge

The complete timeline of Venice mapping we have created is presented in the following video.


The time-lapse morphing model contains 21 different maps, listed below:
• 1528 map, as the work of Benedetto Bordone.
• 1560 map, by Sebastian Munster. He was a German cartographer and cosmographer. His work, “the Cosmographia” from 1544 was the earliest German description of the world.
• 1566 map, by Donato Bertelli.
• 1572 map, work of Thomaso Porcacchi.
• 1573 map, unknown author.
• 1588 map, by Leandro Alberti.
• 1597 map, by Giacomo Franco.
• 1608 map, as work of Abraham Saur.
• 1641 map, created by Matthaus Merian, German cartographer.
• 1696 map, by Vincenzo Coronelli.
• 1700 map, by Jacobus van der Schley, German cartographer.
• 1703 and 1705 maps, by Karl Weiland, German cartographer.
• 1720 map, by Gabriel Bodenehr.
• 1752 map, by Homann Erben. He founded his business in 1602 in Nuremberg, Germany. The Hofmann publishing house became the most important map and atlas producer in Germany.
• 1834 map, work of Bertoja.
• 1849 map, by Joseph Kier.
• 1850 and 1876 maps, created by H.F. Munster.
• 1853 map, work of W.B. Clarke.
• 2014 latest Google Maps.

• D. Woodward – “The History of Cartography – Cartography In the European Renaissance”
• D. Woodward, “Maps and Print in the Italian Renaissance”, 1996
• The Venice Project
• Thrower, “Maps & Civilizations: Cartography in Culture and Society”, 2008