MapCarte 262/365: Map of Venice by Jacopo de’ Barbari, 1500


The very first aerial photograph was taken by French photographer and balloonist Gaspard-Félix Tournacho, in 1858 over Paris. That fact alone makes this map, produced some 350 years earlier even more of a monumental cartographic achievement than its beauty alone suggests. Produced from wood-block printing on several large sheets, this birds-eye map shows the city of Venice with the Alps acting as a distant horizon.

The detail is exquisite with almost no stone unturned – literally. Every building, church and piazza is shown and such is the attention to detail that one could easily use the map then and now to navigate around the city.

Barbari’s skills as a painter and engraver show how mastery of one’s tools is fundamental to great cartography. What the map perhaps fails to convey is the way in which it was constructed. Given Venice is built on water traditional techniques of measurement (physical rods or chains) wouldn’t have been used to gain measurements. Instead, Barbari must have used trigonometry and then applied foreshortening to generate his oblique perspective. These are techniques not adopted for many years to come.

Whatever you use to design and make a map, knowing how to apply the tools to a high standard goes a long way to ensuring the result will be high quality. Painting, engraving and mathematics underpinned Barbari’s work. It resulted in a magnificent map.