Juan de la Cosa Chart

Museo Naval

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The Juan de la Cosa Chart © Museo Naval Madrid

The chart or map of Juan de la Cosa records a very precise moment in the history of globalisation and human encounters: completed in 1500, it is the first “world” map to depict the coast of the Americas – and even predates the word “America,” which was not used until 1507. Its cartographer was the owner of the Santa María, the largest of the three ships which travelled on Christopher Columbus’ 1492 expedition across the Atlantic (labelled on the map Mare Oceanum); over the next 17 years de la Cosa would travel seven times to the continent. He eventually died in 1509 in what is now Columbia, where he was shot by a poison arrow at the hands of Native Americans while attempting to colonise their land. 

Caught between Medieval and modern cartography, de la Cosa’s map is in large part a portolan chart, focusing on the coastal settlements and sea-routes which would have been of significance to nautical navigators. But it incorporates lands which were unknown to earlier map-makers; in addition to the Atlantic coast of America it contains the rough beginnings of a cartography of the east coast of India, which the Portuguese conquistador Vasco da Gama had reached in 1498. America is rendered in verdant green, a reference to the lush vegetation encountered there, and presided over by a large figure of St Christopher transporting the Christ child across the water. Given the quality of the map’s production it is likely that it was made for the Spanish Catholic monarchs Isabella and Ferdinand.

In January 2021, Factum Foundation digitised the parchment map, which measures 96 by 186 cm at its widest points, at the Museo Naval in Madrid. The surface relief was recorded using the Lucida 3D Scanner (designed by Manuel Franquelo with support from Factum Arte and Factum Foundation), while colour was recorded using composite photography. The digital data will belong to the Museo Naval for study and conservation purposes.

The next step will be to produce an exact facsimile of the map using Canon Production Printing’s elevated printing technology, with colour reproduced using Factum’s own custom-modified inkjet printer. The facsimile will be part of the exhibition display at the Spanish Gallery in Bishop Auckland, due to open in July 2021; following the exhibition, it will be donated to the Museo Naval. 

Gabriel Scarpa recording the colour using composite photography © Oscar Parasiego for Factum Foundation

Recording the colour using panoramic photography © Oscar Parasiego for Factum Foundation

The Lucida 3D Scanner recording the surface

Carlos Bayod and Gabriel Scarpa operating the Lucida 3D Scanner © Oscar Parasiego for Factum Foundation

© Oscar Parasiego for Factum Foundation


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