Fra’ Mauro’s Globe at St. Mark’s Library in Venice

Discovering different worlds... During our guided tours in Venice we like to suggest our guests to visit also St. Mark’s Library. It was built in the 1500’s, on a project by architect Jacopo Sansovino, to host the incredible legacy by Cardinal Bessarione, but then over the centuries it became richer and richer.
The Monumental Hall and the Vestibule, the latter receiving in the late 1500’s the precious collection of ancient statues of the Grimani family, are simply amazing, full of paintings by major masters such as Titian, Veronese, Tintoretto, Schiavone, Giuseppe Porta and more.
But now there is one more reason to visit this beautiful monument…

The decorated ceiling of the Monumental Hall of the Library

The Vestibule, detail with Knowledge by Titian

Fra’ Mauro’s Globe

Some small rooms of the former Procuratie, accessible from the Library, have been recently reopened. Here quite relevant masterpieces of ancient cartography have been exhibited. The most impressive map is the one that we can see in the very last room: Fra’ Mauro’s Globe, one of the most important cosmographic work in the world.

Fra’ Mauro’s Globe

About Fra’ Mauro we know that he was a friar, but we have no news about where he was born. He was active for a long time in Venice, at the monastery in St. Michael’s island.
But how was it possible for him to create such a detailed work without travelling at all, and actually never going out of the monastery?
Fra’ Mauro took into consideration several written and oral sources, both ancient and more recent. He based his research on ancient authors such as Ptolemy, Thomas Aquinas and Pliny, as well as on the papers, containing a great deal of details, written by travellers of the previous centuries, such as the famous Marco Polo. However, his acquaintances with the contemporary travellers Niccolò de’ Conti from Chioggia and the Venetian Pietro Querini proved to be fundamental to his work. Also monks and other travellers passing through Venice could provide the friar with relevant information.
The globe was probably created between 1457 and 1459, and it was immediately celebrated as one of the “miracles of Venice” (G.B. Ramusio).
It’s orientation is the opposite with respect to what we are used today, with the South placed on top. 

The Mediterranean
The globe features something like three thousand inscriptions containing information, thoughts, comments on the different countries: they are the result of accurate studies on ancient and medieval texts. The language used for the inscriptions, as well as for the geographic denominations, is Venetian. This was a crucial choice on Mauro’s side, because it would allow a larger number of readers, and not only people of great knowledge, to be able to understand his work.

Inscription about Italy
To complete the inscriptions, Fra’ Mauro added several images of monuments that could be found in the different countries. These drawings might seem a little conventional, but they are for sure full of charm.

Image of a monument in China

Image of a monument in Russia
At the corners of the frame we can admire more images, including a marvellous illumination representing Paradise on Earth by the painter and miniaturist Leonardo Bellini (nephew and eventually adoptive son of the more famous Jacopo Bellini).

Paradise on Earth, by Leonardo Bellini
However, although full of details, for obvious reasons something is missing in this globe…

Geographic Maps and Woodcuts at St. Mark’s Library and at the Correr Museum

Fra’ Mauro’s Globe is a sufficient reason for you to come and visit the library… but here we can admire other interesting maps.
The Heart Shaped Globe is a beautiful example of map created in Venice for the Turkish market. All the inscriptions are in fact in Turkish. This witnesses, on the one hand, the intense commercial and cultural relationship between Venice and all the countries of the Mediterranean, and on the other hand the fact that in the 1400’s and the 1500’s Venice had become a very important centre as far as printing and engravings were concerned. In this museum also the original 1500’s woodcuts of this globe are preserved.

Venetian Turkish Globe shaped as a heart (Venice, 1559-1568), detail of the Mediterranean area

Venetian Turkish Globe shaped as a heart (Venice, 1559-1568), detail of the woodcuts
Quite original is the Kunyu tushuo globe, printed in Beijing in 1674, derived, probably in a slightly reduced version, from the work printed in 1672 by the Flemish Jesuit Ferdinand Verbiest, who was a missionary in China from 1658 up to his death (he died in Beijing thirty years later).

Kunyu tushuo Globe

Kunyu tushuo Globe, detail with the area of the Mediterranean

The heart shaped globe and the Kunyu tushuo globe are more recent than Fra’ Mauro’s one, so the North is on top, and they are of course more complete…
We would also like to mention the great masterpiece by Jacopo de’ Barbari, Venetia MD, preserved in the Correr Museum: it represents a bird eye view of the city of Venice… but we will tell you more about it in one of our next posts…
Do not hesitate to contact us for a guided tour of St. Mark’s Library, and the Correr Museum as well!
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Related tours and posts: 

The Correr museum and St.Mark's library. (section: Classical tours

Foreign communities in Venice. (section: Unusual tours

On the footsteps of Marco Polo in China. (section: Blog)

A customized tour of artisan Venice: Luca and Michele's typogaphy. (section: Blog)

Our guided and private tours of Venice. (section: Blog