Oldest map of Ireland on sale for €3m

On November 19, 2014, Christie's will be selling the oldest known separate individual map of Ireland. The map was made 24 years before Columbus landed in the Americas, when Ireland was at the edge of the known western world.

If your sat nav is a bit out of date or Google maps ain’t your thing, a cool €2m to €3.2m could net you the oldest known standalone map of Ireland.

That’s the auction estimate on an almost 450-year-old atlas by Italian cartographer Grazioso Benincasa going under the hammer in London later this month.

As the oldest known individual map of this island, not depicted alongside Britain, it was produced — according to the Benincasa’s signature — in 1468.

As well as his renown as a map-maker, he was a well-known navigator and an older contemporary of Christopher Columbus.

“Remember that this is over 20 years before Columbus, who we know was in Galway in 1477, had discovered America,” said Julian Wilson.

He is a book specialist at auctioneers Christie’s, who hope to sell the atlas in its November 19 sale of valuable manuscripts and books.

Although there is no evidence of who commissioned the elaborate vellum, the inclusion of a map of Ireland on its own suggests a mercantile or even a sentimental link between its first owner and the country then at the edge of the known western world.

“The suspicion, although there is no evidence, is this was made for a Venetian merchant, or maybe for the Republic of Venice as a presentation item to an important visitor,” he said.

There is little internal geographical detail, apart from two rivers running to Waterford and Ross (New Ross).

The island is in a very geometrical shape, and features in Latin the description: “Ireland, that which they call Hibernia.”

But it is the names of towns and ports along the coast which, Wilson says, make clear this is a navigation map for sailors.

None of the placenames appears to equate to Dublin, but it does show Portrush (translated as Porto Rosso — red port in Italian) Drogheda (Droçda), Bray (Bre), Cork (Chorca) and Limerick, spelled as it is in English.

In the north-west, Wilson says Benincasa “went to town” decorating in red, blue, green and gold what appears to be Clew Bay, alongside which he has captioned in Latin, roughly translated as “the fortunate lake where there are many holy islands numbering 367”, harking back to the old saying that the Mayo bay has an island for each day of the year.

The chart measures 38cm by 50cm. It has been in private ownership for its entire existence and never sold at auction. Previous owners include Sicilian princes, a New York bookseller and the pension fund of British Rail workers, which sold it in 1989 to the private collector who has now put it up for sale.


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