Valuable Maps

Written by  Massimo Rossi

The 1645 Corografia del Dvcato di Ferrara (Chorography of the Duchy of Ferrara) by Bartolomeo Gnoli.

The Cassa di Risparmio di Ferrara Foundation recently purchased a valuable seventeenth century map on the antique market, the Corografia del Dvcato di Ferrara con parte degli Stati al medemo Dvcato confinanti (Chorography of the Duchy of Ferrara with parts of the states bordering the Duchy) set out on eight sheets printed from copperplate engravings. They are quite large (the sheet measures 1100 x 1428 mm and the engraved portion measures 1040 x 1370 mm) and comprise a very important record of a defining moment in the history of the map-making in our area. The cartographer behind it was a man from Ferrara, Bartolomeo Gnoli, who was thirty eight when he published it. At that stage he had already worked in the local municipal offices for fifteen years. His quick rise through the ranks of the Maestrato dei Savi (municipal council) bears witness to his remarkable aptitude in mapmaking techniques. The great Ferrara architect-humanist, Giovan Battista Aleotti, died aged ninety in 1636, the last remaining witness to an extraordinary period of technical and political development, and Gnoli was obviously aware of his work. In fact, the masterful map-making of Aleotti could be said to have been completed by Gnoli when he compiled the first atlas of the Ferrara area. He was the first to entertain the idea of creating an orderly collection of maps called Carte generali e particolari di tutto lo Stato di Ferrara (General maps and details of the entire state of Ferrara) an effective pictorial account of the hydraulic and geopolitical dynamics of the eastern Po Valley area. We know that he wished the collection to be placed on public record upon his death, just as Aloetti’s collection of more than two hundred drawings were available for consultation by public surveyors.

The Corografia of 1645 was therefore the introduction to the first atlas of the Ferrara area. But Gnoli’s prints should ideally be associated with the Corographia dello Stato di Ferrara con le vicine parti delli altri stati che lo circondano (Chorography of the State of Ferrara with parts of the surrounding bordering areas) (1603) of Aleotti, the first printed map of the Ferrara area. While Aleotti offered his map to Pope Clement VIII, Bartolomeo dedicated his to Pope Innocent X.

Bartolomeo Gnoli’s Corografia is an important work because it is a public document that testifies to a sense of public duty, as can be noted by the citizen’s coat of arms on the bottom left, and because it was drawn up by a public surveyor who was conscious of the fact that this map could be used to help protect an area that needed continuous and careful monitoring. Gnoli’s early death at forty in 1647 robbed the Maestrato dei Savi of an important figure, and his maps continued to be an important reference for fifty years afterwards. This shrewd purchase by the Cassa di Risparmio di Ferrara Foundation is to be applauded, and it is also important for preservation purposes since there are only two examples of the precious prints at the Ariostea Library (RIA, Fondo Crispi, Serie XV, 11-15).