AE Monthly

Articles - February - 2010 Issue

Important Maps to test the Market

Blaeu

Blaeu's Atlas Major, Amsterdam, 1662-1681 in a bespoke cabinet

By Bruce McKinney

In a day or two Sotheby's will add an auction to its calendar. It will be the necessary next step for Frank Benevento, a map collector who entered the collecting field a decade ago, began to acquire important maps, and now confronts serious health issues and other priorities.

His sale, The Frank A. Benevento II Collection of Important Maps and Atlases, will be sold in London during Map Week. The date is May 6th. In the short decade Mr. Benevento has collected, he acquired many important early maps - often from the leading map dealers. Highlights of the sale will be on exhibit in New York April 8-13. In London the pre-sale exhibition begins on April 29.

In an official statement Sotheby's describes the collection this way:

"The Benevento collection contains a wealth of treasures of the map-maker's art. These range from some of the earliest depictions of the known world, to masterpieces of the Renaissance, showing the earliest mapping of the New World and Asia and culminating in the seventeenth century "golden age" of cartography, exemplified by Blaeu’s monumental Atlas Major."

Catherine Slowther, who runs the map department at Sotheby's in London has scheduled the sale for maximum effect. "Frank's sale coincides with our flagship various-owners auction of high-value atlases, maps and travel books, which always attracts the top collectors and dealers." The introduction to the catalogue, written by Ashley Baynton-Williams, describes the collection this way:

"The core of the collection is centred on Italian cartographers, particularly Giacomo Gastaldi from the 1540s to 1560s, and Vincenzo Maria Coronelli from the 1680s and 1690s, two figures of Europe-wide reputation, who form neat bookmarks for a time when, for long periods, Italian mapmakers played a leading role in forming the European world view. Gastaldi was the outstanding European cartographer of his period; while there are other challengers for the title, he is perhaps the mapmaker most responsible for breaking the Ptolemaic stranglehold on cartography, undertaking the re-mapping of the world that formed the foundations on which the future generations such as Mercator based their work. The 1548 edition of Ptolemy for which he prepared the maps has been described as the first atlas of the New World, with its suite of regional maps of North and South America and the West Indies. Much of Gastaldi's work was used by the contemporary cartographic publisher, Paolo Forlani, whose work is presented in the collection, notably the landmark map of North America, from 1565.

At the other end of the date range, Coronelli was Geographer to the Venetian Republic and to the King of France, and founder of the oldest cartographical society in the world, and he played an important part in disseminating the French discoveries in the Americas to a wider audience. Not only does the Benevento collection have an example of Coronelli two-sheet map of North America, but one of Coronelli’s rarest, and finest, productions, the 'De Navalli'.

Through their position cocooned in the Mediterranean, Italian city states played little part in the trans-European colonial land-rush, but individual Italians, from Marco Polo onwards, made an important contribution to forging closer links with, and knowledge of, China, particularly through individuals, often Jesuits, such as Matteo Ricci and Martinus de Martini, author of the first published atlas of China from 1655. The collection has other notable items in the mapping of China - the first printed map of the country by another Jesuit Luiz Jorge de Barbuda, du Halde's fine three-volume description from the 1730s, as well as a series of charts from VOC sources, known as the "Secret Atlas" as the contents were restricted for use only by Dutch ships plying their trade to the Far East.

No Italian collector could conceive of a collection without art. While the boundaries between art and cartography often-times were narrow, and there are many examples of the cross-over, Frank sought out two particular rarities: a fine "Leo Belgicus", also introducing the mapmaker's esprit-de-vivre, and a set of Johannes Janssonius' carte-à-figures (maps with pictorial borders) of the four known continents.

In a nod to his new home, the collection also contains a number of landmark maps of the New World, for example Forlani and de Jode's maps of North America, as well Smith's maps of Virginia and New England, and Delisle's map of Louisiana, the last three foundation cartographic documents for the area depicted.

The culmination of the collection - and quite probably the all-time pinnacle of atlas production - is an example of Johannes Blaeu's magnificent eleven-volume world atlas - the Atlas Maior, the greatest atlas of the day, and the diplomatic gift of choice of the Dutch republic for its greatest servants and most important allies, but the collection houses other choice examples of European mapmaking at its finest, such as the Danckerts Atlas, from the end of the seventeenth century.

The period from the 1540s to 1700 or so, was the golden age of art and cartography. The so-called 'Lafreri School' dominating the mapmaking of the mid-sixteenth century, until leadership passed first to Antwerp and then to Amsterdam when cartography, under a series of Dutch masters became renown for the happy blend of art and cartography - the "Golden Age of Dutch Cartography" - that, to this day, delights the eye.

Mr Benevento bought well but bought late in the bull market for maps and faces less enthusiasm in the rooms than he experienced when buying just a few years ago. His sale will provide an important test of buyer interest.

According to Graham Arader "Frank has brought extraordinary enthusiasm to his collecting. He was, for a few short years totally committed and as well read on the subject as any collector I have known. In that time he purchased many important maps which the market will be anxious to bid on in May. That his focus has shifted is disappointing but understandable."

The introduction to the sale catalogue, due to be released in mid-March, concludes [and I paraphrase]:

Frank's ambition was to capture the essence of the golden age of cartography - 1540-1700. However, circumstances have conspired against him, so the collection returns to the market all-to-soon, but the many treasures assembled in such a short period are sure to bring joy to their new owners.

AE Monthly


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