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Monique Pelletier:

The cordiform World maps by Oronce Fine

Cartographica Helvetica 12 (1995) 27–37


In the Renaissance, World maps prepared by French geographers were still rare. The cartographical work of Oronce Fine (1494–1555) is therefore all the more interesting. This mathematician and astronomer assumed his place in the great European movement which followed the rediscovery of Ptolemy's Geography and its scientific basis.

Son and grandson of physicians, Oronce Fine was born in Briançon (Dauphiné) and died in Paris. He lectured in mathematics at the Collège royal (the present Collège de France) which François I, King of France, had just founded. Fine wrote particularly about astronomy and astronomical instruments. In a treatise, which remained in magnuscript form, he explains how to determine longitudes with an instrument he calls a méthéoroscope, an astrolabe modified by adding a compass. He went from theory to practice by publishing mainly a map of France and two World maps for which he tried to get the largest possible number of geographic coordinates. In that way he completed and corrected the information transmitted by Ptolemy. He also tested several cartographic projections. In 1531 he produced a first World map in bicordiform, while his map of 1534 to 1536 is a cordiform projection as was Apian's map published in Ingolstadt (Bavaria) in 1530.

In the field of geography, Oronce Fine tried to combine the medieval information on eastern countries with the results of the Great Discoveries. In the northern part of the cordiform World map he wrote the name Asia on each side of the central meridian to cover both present-day North America and Asia which were represented as one continent. The name America was reserved for South America. As a consequence, Marco Polo's Mangi, Tangut, and Catay – which Colombus had hoped to reach – appear to the west of the Gulf of Mexico. On the same map, Fine drew a vast land mass (Terra Australis) to the south, 'recently discovered but not yet completely explored'. Indeed, the discovery of Tierra del Fuego by Magellan permitted an assumption that the southern continent imagined by the geographers had at last been reached. An old hypothesis was confirmed by a new disvovery and the present joined the past. In a more general way, uncertainties of the cosmographer seemed covered by a cloak of science, a science which still remained greatly theoretical.

Bibliographic note

  • Article translated from French by Madlena Cavelti Hammer, Horw.
  • Also published as: Die herzförmigen Weltkarten von Oronce Fine = Le monde dans un cœur, les deux mappemondes d'Oronce Fine. Murten, 1995. (Cartographica Helvetica Sonderheft 9).
  • Also published as: Le monde dans un cœur. Les deux mappemondes d'Oronce Fine. In: Tours et contours de la Terre. Itinéraires d'une femme au coeur de la cartographie. ed. Catherine Hofmann, Danielle Lecoq. Paris, 1999. pp. 177–197.

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