Italian Paleography


Chicago, Newberry VAULT oversize Novacco 7C 1 (PrCt)
Gasparo Tentivo
Gasparo Tentivo’s Atlas
Venice, 1661

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Over the course of 91 charts of islands, ports, and straits, Gasparo Tentivo’s Il Nautico Ricercato takes readers on a journey through the eastern Mediterranean, beginning with descriptions of Venetian holdings in the Adriatic Sea before moving through contested territories in the Aegean Sea and concluding with the coasts of Cyprus and Egypt. Tentivo combines the cartographic genres of the portolan atlas and the isolario, or book of islands, and he includes miniature city views alongside careful tracings of coastlines and descriptive text.

Tentivo was a Venetian sailor and cartographer active in the eastern Mediterranean during the late seventeenth century. By 1668 Venice had lost all its major territories in the Aegean to the Ottomans, but in the 1680s the Venetian navy was reasserting itself. In 1680–81 Tentivo likely sailed with his father, Captain Antonio Tentivo, on a special mission from the Venetian Senate to investigate and write reports on every port in the region. Following his father’s death in 1681, Tentivo was made captain of his own ship, and he likely produced his atlas from first-hand experience at this time.

Il Nautico Ricercato is striking for the practical details that pack the descriptive text accompanying its maps. Unlike most contemporary collections of portolan charts, Tentivo provides extensive guides to each island and port, including sailing directions and the locations of fresh water, wood, and other supplies. This level of information could only have come from someone who had personally visited these harbors and was familiar with the needs of a fleet. However, it is unlikely that Tentivo’s atlas was ever used by sailors. The atlas was never printed, but instead became a prototype for manuscript copies produced for wealthy collectors. The Newberry atlas is one of eleven of these copies to survive, and it was made after Tentivo’s death in 1702. The atlas is written on heavy laid paper bearing a watermark of three crescent moons. Known as the tre lune, this watermark commonly appeared on Venetian paper manufactured for export to Islamic regions. While Il Nautico Ricercato was produced for a local audience, the foreign associations of the paper matched its descriptions of lands across the sea.


Corsiva (1661) dal tracciato esilissimo, poco legata, ricca di elementi ornamentali nell’esagerata estensione e curvatura dei tratti inferiori e nei fiocchi o spirali al termine dell’asta della d (r. 9: andando).
Da notare: la r corsiva divaricata (r. 3: prova); la s iniziale che scende sinuosa sotto il rigo (r. 13: stato); il legamento ol (r. 11: favole).

Selected Bibliography:

For the tre lune watermark see: