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  • The Marvel of Maps: Art, Cartography and Politics in Renaissance Italy
  • Daniel Brownstein
Francesca Fiorani . The Marvel of Maps: Art, Cartography and Politics in Renaissance Italy. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005. ix + 347 pp. index. append. illus. map. bibl. $60. ISBN: 0–300–10727–7.

In The Marvel of Maps: Art, Cartography and Politics in Renaissance Italy, Francesca Fiorani focuses on the Dominican mathematician, astronomer, and painter Egnazio Danti's involvement in the significant cartographic commissions he made to the Guardaroba Nuova of Florence's Palazzo Vecchio (1563–75) and the Vatican's Gallery of Geographic Maps (1575). Although the Vatican cycle has been extensively documented (Gambi and Pinelli, 1990), Fiorani's cultural history places Danti at the center of both projects to reveal the intersection of art and science in Renaissance courts.

The two sections of the book, "Mapping as a Worldly Art" and "Sacred Art," show that Danti's involvement in both frescoes reveals the emergence of the ordering terrestrial space as a "courtly art" (13) that used a new tradition of critical cartography "in cooperation with sophisticated patrons" (10). Danti adapted the recent 1569 Mercator projection and the maps of Giacomo Gastaldi not only to decorate the doors of cabinets in the Guardaroba to order the Medici collection of artificialia, naturalia, and exotica (131), she argues, but to stake "symbolic possession" of newly-mapped regions that resonated with Cosimo I's interest in elaborating his self-image by cosmic imagery. Color plates of the foreign objects that Cosimo I possessed suggest the value of maps to organize their provenance in the cabinet, where they could be correlated to a large globe in the center of the room that revealed the complementary natures of regional and global maps, and situate their commission within a history of collecting.

If the cycle of the Guardaroba Nuova provides a chamber of memory, the forty maps of Italy and its surrounding islands constituted the largest Renaissance complex of maps through chorographic maps that "combined the quantitative and qualitative description of a locale" (207) for his papal patron, based on his surveys of Romagna. As well as documenting Danti's skill as a surveyor, Fiorani shows how the ostensive properties of terrrestrial maps developed in service to Cosimo I as symbolic tools expanded as Danti left Florence and worked for patrons such as Cardinal Gabriele Paleotti and Gregory XIII. She speculates that contact with Paleotti encouraged Danti to celebrate the exact sciences to "elevate the intellect . . . to the contemplation of divine things" (157), echoing Paleotti's praise [End Page 515] of scientific illustrations as vehicles of moral instruction. Danti continued to show familiarity with the recent critical use of cartographic projections, but expanded the symbolic scope of territorial maps after he arrived in Rome to participate in Gregory XIII's calendrical reform. He first executed a chorographic fresco of the diocese of Bologna in the Vatican in 1575 as an image of vescoval administration. Fiorani argues that this map forecast the complex ostensive roles of the topographic maps of forty regions of the peninsula, each framed by indices of longitude and latitude, which show the prominence of the Papal States and Italy's sacred geography. As if to modernize claims of St. Peter's throne to rule urbis et orbis, the maps affirmed the worldly jurisdiction of the Counter-Reformation Church and the centrality of the peninsula to Christian history. Fiorani argues that Danti's two large hemispheric maps provide a "global vision of the papal mission" (237) and served to map enlarging "aspirations for the universal church" (238) for a pontiff with a "predilection for maps" (167). A generous subvention from the Vatican Museums allowed the inclusion of magnificent color plates that allow readers to follow Fiorani's analysis of the complex iconography of Danti's large commissions in the Vatican, as well as the tempera panels of the Guardaroba Nuova, but scholars may want to consult the catalogue in Gambi and Pinelli to see the regions' landscape in the original colors.

Despite limited evidence that Danti provided the impetus for either cycle, Fiorani emphasizes the relevance of his expertise as a mathematician and instrument-maker. But focusing on...


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pp. 515-517
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Archived 2009
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