One of the Library’s great treasures is a remarkable manuscript map of the world, or Mappe Monde, produced in 1546 by the distinguished French cartographer Pierre Desceliers (French MS 1*).
Because of its size (260 x 130 cms), fragility, and the sheer logistical challenge of manoeuvring it around the building, the map is very rarely removed from it storage location, but last week it had a rare outing so that it could be examined by a researcher, Chet van Duzer, from Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. Chet is an expert on early world maps, and has been commissioned to write a book about a similar map by Desceliers now at the British Library (Add. MS 24065).
It took a team of five conservators to move the map in its 19th-century wooden case, and we had to limit access to the reading room, because of the space the map occupied. Chet was very patient with the steady stream of curious members of Library staff who took this rare opportunity to admire it.
Chet writes: “My interest in the spectacular world map made by Pierre Desceliers in 1546 in the John Rylands Library (French MS 1*) stems from a book I am writing about another world map by Desceliers which is in the British Library (Add. MS 24065). This book, which will be published by the British Library, will be a facsimile of the map in the British Library together with a detailed commentary on the map and its cartographic context.
“We have very, very little information about Desceliers from documents of his era, and so I want to learn everything I can about his development as a cartographer by studying his surviving maps closely.
“It was a wonderful experience consulting the Desceliers map in person.
At some point in the map’s history a glaze was applied to it that makes some details difficult to discern in digital images of the map, so I was able to see new things during my consultation of the map. For example, in the lower left margin of the map there is a monogram of Henri II of France, for whom the map was made, that I had not been able to see before. I was also able to transcribe place-names in the mysterious southern continent on the map for comparison with other sources, and study the islands of the Atlantic, to see how Desceliers’s depiction of them changed over time.
“I believe that I will be able to use his depictions of Atlantic islands to date an undated atlas by Desceliers in the Morgan Library in New York.”
The map was digitised by the Library in 2011, and you can view the full map and sections in remarkable detail on Luna at http://enriqueta.man.ac.uk/luna/servlet/s/ltz1a0.