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Giacomo Gastaldi

Published:  Luc'Antionio Giunti: Venice  1565
Medium:  Woodcut
Dimensions:  14 1/2" x 10 1/4"

Full margins; superb condition.

Giacomo Gastaldi (ca. 1500-ca.1565), Cosmographer to the Republic of Venice, is considered by many to be “the greatest cartographer of the Italian school” (Verner-Stubbs, p. 12). He was the first to propose a strait separating North America from the Asian continent. Gastaldi’s most important work includes “La Nova Francia – one of the first maps to delineate the east coast of North America, and when first issued in 1556, the very first regional map of any part of present-day Canada. The map concentrates on the area around Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, but also extends as far south as New York and Rhode Island.

“La Nuova Francia” first appeared in Giovanni Ramusio’s collection of accounts of voyages entitled Navigationi et Viaggi. The book was widely distributed in the sixteenth-century, with the third volume devoted entirely to voyages in the New World. For his geography of the Newfoundland area in “La Nuova Francia”, Gastaldi depended on English, Portuguese and French accounts, but for the coast of New England he referred to Verrazzano’s 1524 explorations. The geography in general is confused and puzzling: Newfoundland appears fragmented, with a northern part entitled “Isola de Demoni”. The demons which inhabit the northern tip of this island can be identified as Beothuk Indians, a now-extinct tribe then known to be especially hostile. The Grand Banks appear as a curved shoal, the Strait of Belle Isle as “colfo di castelli.” “Angoulesme” is a variant of “Angoulesme”, the name given by Verrazzano to the area around New York harbor. “Port du Refuge”, east of “Angoulesme”, is today’s Narragansett Bay.

Besides its attempts at geographic accuracy, Gastaldi’s map is rich in descriptive information. One of the first to portray the New World as bountiful and inviting, Gastaldi shows a summer scene with trees in full leaf. Indians populate the landscape: they dance, socialize amongst themselves, fish and hunt. Fish are plentiful, and are shown drying in the sun, hauled up in nets, and swimming in the sea along with the usual sea monsters. The Grand Banks were already becoming well-known. Europeans were regularly fishing there, and using other local resources, as well. Accounts from the time describe a vessel returning home with salmon, herring, cod and other fish, wood for ship building, and natives to be sold as slaves. Gastaldi’s map is a fascinating document of the growing awareness of the New World’s potential wealth and is essential to any collection of early maps of North America.

Schwartz and Ehrenberg. The Mapping of America. NY: Harry Abrams, 1980.

Verner and Stuart-Stubbs. The Northpart of America. Toronto: Academie Press Canada Ltd., 1979.

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