Printer Friendly

The terrestrial sphere of "the spheres" tapestries--revisited.


The Spheres are a mysterious and complex set of tapestries. No documents relating to the commissioning have been located but according to art historians who have studied the series, the tapestries were commissioned by King Joao (John) III of Portugal (born 1502, enthroned 1521, died 1557). (1) John married Catarina (Catherine) of Austria (1507-1578), sister of King Carolus (Charles) V, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain, in 1524. (2) The series was one of the most important commissioned by the Portuguese court. (3) The three surviving panels of a set of five are in Madrid under the care of the Patrimonio National. (4) Each of the survivors includes a different sphere. The first shows Hercules carrying a celestial sphere. The second depicts Atlas on one knee supporting an armillary sphere, while the third (Figs. 1 & 2.), known as "Earth Under the Protection of Jupiter and Juno", the focus of this article, contains a terrestrial sphere showing the eastern or "Portuguese" hemisphere.

The series may have been commissioned to commemorate the marriage of John and Catherine and celebrate the union, through the marriage, of the Portuguese and Spanish royal houses. (5) In addition, according to Dr. Concha Herrero Carretero, Curator of Tapestries at the Patrimonio Nacional "the tapestries exalt the heroic exploits of the Portuguese navigators under the patronage of the monarchs of the house of Aviz." (6) They also glorify Portugal's role and leadership in science, especially nautical astronomy. (7) Art historian Barbara von Barghahn said the tapestries "were intended to display the wealth resulting from New World explorations. The extensive voyages were made possible by scientific advances and expertise in nautical equipment. Joao III, at the time he commissioned the Spheres was as desirous as Manuel I to promote Portugal as a centre for navigation to distant lands." (8)

The artist and weaver are unknown. According to Guy Delmarcel, Emeritus Professor of History of Art, University of Louvain, Belgium, the series was "probably inspired by the humanists at the court in Lisbon". (9) Concha Herrero Carretero said: "the skilful composition and vigorous design of the tapestries suggest that the cartoons that served as models may be attributed to the Italian-influenced painter, Bernaert van Orley." (10) The tapestries are the result of a collaboration between King John's court and van Orley's workshop. (11) The Portuguese court was involved in the imagery and composition and established the iconographic program. Royal collections researcher, Dr. Annemarie Jordan Gschwend said: "The detailed references and pictorial elements in the Spheres tapestries underscore the Portuguese provenance. The cosmological imagery in these tapestries is one that had long been promoted at Portuguese court." (12)

The tapestries were made in Brussels, woven in wool, silk, silver and gold. It is understood the first tapestry did contain the Brussels city mark which became obligatory from 1528. (13) The mark can no longer be seen because the selvedges of the tapestry have been replaced. (14) It is not known when the tapestries became part of the Spanish crown collection. It may have been in 1543 when Maria, daughter of King John III and Catherine, married her cousin Felipe (Philip), son of King Charles V of Spain and his wife Isabella, or it may have happened when the Iberian kingdoms united in 1580.

In the early sixteenth century tapestries were highly desirable, prestigious works of art used to enhance the reputation and status of the owner. Acquired only by the wealthiest, tapestries, designed by leading artists and made by the finest craftsmen, were large-scale ostentatious displays of wealth. With the great wealth earned from their overseas ventures, the Portuguese could afford sets of the highest quality. (15) By the early sixteenth century Brussels had become a centre of high quality production and Flemish tapestries had acquired a reputation for excellence. Bernaert (or Bernard) van Orley (1488-1541), who had a large workshop in Brussels, was one of the most gifted painters and tapestry designers in the early sixteenth century (16)


All the surviving tapestries in the Spheres series are large; the third measures 344cm x 314cm, and its centrepiece, the terrestrial sphere, is a circle with a diameter of approximately one metre. There are two figures, crowned and holding sceptres on either side of the sphere. On the left is King John III in the guise of the Roman god Jupiter and on the right Catherine as Jupiter's wife (and sister) Juno. The sceptres are topped with fleur-de-lis. The king and queen are supported in the sky above the clouds by two winged figures.

Royal illuminator Antonio de Holanda (or Hollanda) is known to have designed a gold sceptre with a fleur-de-lis crown for King John, which may have been the model for the one held by the king in the tapestry. The sceptre is recorded in the king's inventory of 1534. (17)

The Roman theme is evident in the other surviving tapestries. The achievements under John's father, King Manuel I, encouraged the idea of Portugal being the new Roman Empire and Lisbon the new city of Rome. (18) After Vasco da Gama's historic voyage to India (1497-99), King Manuel was referred to by some as Emperor and Caesar (19) and King John saw himself as heir to the Roman Empire. (20)

At the top of the third tapestry, below the border of flowers, fruit, ribbons, birds and other animals, the sun shines brightly over Portugal, immediately below, and the rest of the world. The moon, partly shadowed by Earth and surrounded by stars, is at the bottom of the tapestry. In between are winged heads symbolising the winds. Two figures representing Abundance and Wisdom are in the top left corner, and on the right the two figures are symbols of Fame and Victory. (21)

At the top of the tapestry, within the border to the right of centre, is a scroll with the Latin inscription GLORIA SUMMA, NAMSUAIPSIUS SOLA (Glory is supreme for it issues from itself alone). Next to the scroll, to the left of centre, is an armillary sphere, the personal emblem of King Manuel. (22)

The terrestrial sphere depicts Africa, Europe, part of Asia and part of an assumed southern continent. There are a large number of islands shown, many non-existent, most notably in the Mediterranean Sea. The centre and dominant feature of the sphere is the continent of Africa. The mapmaker has used an orthographic projection with parallels and meridians marked but there are no scales for latitude or longitude. There is a curved line, the plane of the ecliptic, marking the apparent path of the sun during the course of a year. The word Giudiacus appears above the line which may be a misspelling of the Latin word Zodiacus (Zodiac). Lakes, rivers and mountain ranges are depicted plus there are images of animals, human figures and symbols for buildings. There are also nineteen Portuguese flags and six small crosses. Some geographic features and areas are named, but only two cities--Lisboa (Lisbon) and Calicut, the termini of Vasco da Gama's first voyage to India.


Most of the names are in Latin, others are in Portuguese. The features and areas named are:
Area              Name                      Comment
Europe            Europa                    Europe
                  Gronland                  Greenland
                  Lisboa                    Lisbon
                  Italia                    Italy
                  Pontus Euxinus            Black Sea
                  Mare Mediterraneum        Mediterranean Sea
                  [indecipherable]          North of Tartaria on the
                                            Arctic Circle. Perhaps
                                            Arcticus for Arctic Circle?

Middle East       Asia Pars                 Asia Part
                  Turchie                   Turkey
                  Tartaria                  Tartary
                  Babilonia                 Babylon
                  Sinus Persicus            Persian Gulf
                  [...]ius                  Caspian Sea. Perhaps
                                            Caspius short for Mare
                  Iudea                     Israel/Palestine

Africa/           Africae Pars              African Part
Atlantic          Cancer                    Tropic of Cancer
                  Giudiacus(?)              May be a misspelling of
                                            Zodiacus, a reference to
                                            the plane of the ecliptic?
                  Werae                     Meroe. An island formed by
                                            the splitting of the Nile.
                                            The letter M is inverted
                                            to read W.
                  Palus Nilus               Assumed source of the
                                            Nile; Palus = swamp.
                  Cabo de Boa Esperanca     Cape of Good Hope
                  Monzambuiqus              Mozambique
                  Mare Oceanius             North Atlantic Ocean
                  Tome S.                   Sao Tome Island
                  Ci[...] [...]uinociais    Two words beneath the
                                            Equator in the Atlantic.
                                            Perhaps Circulus
                                            Aequinoctialis = the
                  Capricornus               Tropic of Capricorn

Southern          Hantipodis Pars           Antipodean Part.

Indian Ocean      Calicut                   Indian seaport visited by
                                            Vasco da Gama in 1498.
                  Mare Indicum              Indian Ocean
                  S. Laurencu[s]            Madagascar


In the sixteenth century the Portuguese had a loose custom of using flag symbols on their charts to mark a discovery, or a territorial claim, or a place of significance. Sometimes flags of other kingdoms and rulers were shown. There was no consistency, some Portuguese world maps from the early sixteenth century had no flags at all e.g. Lopo Homem's world map of 1519. (23) The Portuguese flags on the terrestrial sphere have five blue escutcheons on a white field without a border. They differ from the flags on the Cantino world map of 1502 (24) which have five white escutcheons on a blue base with a red border, and those on Jorge Reinel's world map ca. 1519 (25) which have five white escutcheons on a blue background, without a border. The five blue escutcheons on a white base design is one associated with the House of Aviz, which ruled Portugal from 1383 to 1580, and with the Dukes of Beja. (26)

Commencing with the northernmost flag and moving south, the positions of the 19 flags are:
Name                        Position

Greenland                   The northernmost flag. Greenland is named

Lisbon                      Portugal

Cape Verde                  On the coast of NW Africa.

Ascension Island            Shown as a group of islands south of the
                            Equator near the western boundary of the

Sao Jorge da Mina           On the African coast near the Equator.

Sao Tome                    Island on the Equator near the African
                            coast named Tome S.

St. Helena                  Mid Atlantic Ocean. Shown as a group of

Tristan da Cunha            Islands in the South Atlantic Ocean close
                            to the southern continent.

Cape Cross                  SW Africa near Walvis Bay.

Cape of Good Hope           Near the southern tip of Africa.

Madagascar                  Named on the map S Laurencufs]

Large non-existent island   SE of Madagascar. Drawn based on Marco
                            Polo's narrative.

Part of Australia; a        The flag is on land in the East straddling
misplaced island; or non-   the Tropic of Capricorn, which appears to
existent imaginary land.    be a peninsula of the southern continent.

An island in a group of     In the Indian Ocean north of the Equator
non-existent or misplaced   near the African coast, and south of the
islands.                    unnamed island Socotra. Possibly the

Massawa                     South coast of the Red Sea opposite Aden.

Ceylon (Sri Lanka)          Indian Ocean

Ormuz (Ormus) or Diu        On an island off the coast of northern
                            India near the entrance of the Persian

Sumatra or Malacca          On the eastern perimeter of the globe
(Melaka)                    north of the Equator, and attached to a
                            large portion of land extending south of
                            the Equator. Likely to mark the port of

Pegu (Burma or Myanmar)     North of the previous flag on the eastern
                            edge of the map.


The six crosses indicate areas of missionary activity and/or Christian strongholds. The two crosses east of the Black Sea (Pontus Euxinus) are in Georgia and Armenia. The other four are in North Africa. Next to the westernmost is a symbol of an African chief wearing a helmet and holding a cross. This represents Ogane (or Oni of Ife) of whom it was said he was "held in the same reverence by his subjects as the Pope by Catholics." (27) The cross near the Red Sea denotes the kingdom of the legendary Prester John. Nearby a king is depicted sitting on a throne. (28) The cross further north marks the kingdom of Nubia. The remaining cross, towards the centre of the continent, marks the Congo "where the converted indigenous potentate ruled as Dom Afonso (1506-43)". (29)


The globe is not in a conventional north/south position but is tilted to the east. It seems King John with a wave of his sceptre and with the power of Jupiter has tipped Earth to place Portugal at the top of the world, directly under the sun. King John's sweep is shown by a coloured streak, representing movement, under the sceptre which comes up from the Gulf of Guinea.

There are gold highlights on the land masses in the central portion of the globe, which represent light from the sun, and also illustrate how the Portuguese through their discoveries (and enlightenment) expanded the known world. The highlights flow out of southern Africa and into Asia. In the nearby seas the mapmaker has used hatching to further illustrate the flow. The dark blue hatching in the South Atlantic links to the gold highlights in southern Africa. This darker hatching continues through the northern Indian Ocean, Persian Gulf and into Asia and the southern Indian Ocean.

The highlighting and hatching may also be symbolic of the transition from old Rome to the new Rome a vast empire with Lisbon, situated at the top of the globe, as its capital. (30)

The terrestrial sphere does not show the entire domain claimed by Portugal in King John EPs time. The boundaries depicted are not those set by either the Treaty of Tordesillas of 1494 or the Treaty of Saragossa (Zaragoza) of 1529, which of course would only have relevance if the tapestries were designed after 1529. The boundary chosen by the mapmaker in the west is close to the African coast and near to the Cape Verde Islands (which are not shown). The line of demarcation agreed with Spain at Tordesillas, although difficult to determine with precision, is further west, splitting South America, allowing Portugal to claim the coastal regions of Brazil. Very little of the Far East is pictured, making it doubtful that the Moluccas (now known as the Malukus), Portugal's most valuable and contentious possession, are depicted. The Moluccan islands are small and near the Equator. The flag furthest east, north of the Equator, does not mark these islands. It is on a large portion of land which extends south of the Equator, which may be part of the island of Sumatra or part of the Malay peninsula. The flag probably marks Malacca, Portugal's entrepot between India and the Far East. If the flag signifies Sumatra or Malacca then the Moluccan islands, which are further east, are not shown.

There are two other flags near the eastern perimeter of the globe. Neither mark the Moluccas. One is on land in the vicinity of the Tropic of Capricorn, so too far south, and the other is on an island off the north coast of India, most likely meant to mark Ormuz (Ormus) or Diu.

The absence of the Moluccas and hazy depiction of the East could be explained by the Portuguese desire to control information. (31) The tapestries were for public display and moreover were portable, so could be rolled up, transported and unfurled in various locations and, potentially viewed by many. It would have been counterproductive for the Moluccas to have been marked or identified in any way on the terrestrial sphere. Even after the Treaty of Saragossa, Portugal's concerns about challenges to its empire in the East were not eased. The treaty was a provisional recognition by Spain, and only Spain, of Portugal's claim to the islands and did not settle the question of ownership. (32) Portugal had other territorial rivals--notably the French, who sponsored Giovanni Verrazzano's voyage of 1523-1524 to the New World, aimed at finding a passage to the Orient. Sailors from the port of Dieppe, under the sponsorship of Jean Ango, had also ventured into Portuguese claimed territory looking for opportunities. (33) Two of Ango's vessels reached Sumatra in 1529. (34)

In addition to trying to control the flow of information, it is likely King John was keen to steer away from any controversy for the sake of good relations with his wife's family and to show respect for his brother-in-law, the King of Spain. (35) Catherine was known to have been devoted to her brother and to be an admirer his achievements. (36)

Portugal's territorial claims in South America were relatively unimportant at the time, and this may explain why these regions are not depicted on the terrestrial sphere.

Africa has an antiquated appearance, in particular Northwest Africa which has flat Mediterranean and Gulf of Guinea coasts. Portuguese Jorge Reinel's world map of ca.1519 has a more accurate depiction. There is an oversized Red Sea and a large rectangular shaped Persian Gulf, south of a large misshaped Caspian Sea. Similar images appear in Lopo Homem's world map of 1519. There is also an exaggerated Cape Lopez on the western coast south of the Equator. The interior of Africa contains depictions of animals, human figures, buildings, mountains, lakes and rivers. (37) There is a mountain range shown in southern Africa out of which rivers flow into two lakes. Beyond the lakes rivers join to become the Nile. Next to one lake are the words Palus Nilus. The mountains are the mythical Mountains of the Moon, believed by the Ancients to be the source of the Nile. Similar depictions can be found in other sixteenth century maps, e.g. Waldseemuller's world maps of 1507 and 1516; and Jorge Reinel's world map ca.1519.

Next to Africa is a poorly defined Madagascar. The depiction is similar to the one found in Lopo Homem's world map of 1519. The outline does not reflect Portuguese knowledge of Madagascar in the second decade of the sixteenth century. A reasonably accurate portrayal appears in the anonymous chart of the Indian Ocean (ca.1510) attributed to Jorge Reinel (38) and on his world map, ca.1519. Next to Madagascar, near the southern continent, is a large unnamed non-existent island with a Portuguese flag. Between the two are three small islands. The large island is the oversized and misplaced Zanzibar. Based on Marco Polo's narrative that beyond Madagascar lies the island of "Zenzibar," which he said "is reported to be in circuit two thousand miles" many early mapmakers depicted a large island to the south or southeast of Madagascar e.g. Peter Apian's world map 1520 and Oronce Fine's world map of 1531. (39)

Written across the southern continent are the words Hantipodes Pars (Antipodean part). (40) On Africa there is Africae Pars (African part) and on Asia, Asia Pars (Asia part). The mapmaker is not using Pars because only part of a continent is depicted: the whole of Africa is shown but marked Africae Pars. Pars is used here to identify parts of the Portuguese domain. The map has been drawn in a celebratory style as a display of Portuguese achievements. The mapmaker, as an element of the creation, has identified and named the empire's continental parts. The remaining continent shown, Europe, which was not within the Portuguese domain (apart from Portugal) is simply marked Europa.

Intriguingly the map not only depicts a southern continent but it also contains a claim of Portuguese sovereignty over it, through the words Hantipodes Pars and the placement of a Portuguese flag on what appears to be a peninsula of the imagined continent extending north of the Tropic of Capricorn. The only land in this part of the world straddling the Tropic are the northern regions of Australia. Portugal's connections with Africa and Asia are well documented, but those with parts of an assumed southern continent in the sixteenth century have yet to be substantiated. Southern continental land appears on Lopo Homem's world map of 1519, but with no suggestion of a Portuguese discovery or territorial claim. The surviving Portuguese nautical charts and world maps from the middle decades of the sixteenth century show no sign of an austral continent and there are no known official Portuguese records containing a claim of discovery. The assumed southern continent does not reappear on Portuguese world maps until the end of the sixteenth century.

So the terrestrial sphere is unusual for both its setting (in a tapestry owned by a Portuguese king) and its contents. The author of the source map may have been King John's master of making nautical charts, cartographer Lopo Homem; which will be discussed below. Previously, in 2010, the author suggested the mapmaker may have been Franciscus Monachus, court astrologer to Catherine's aunt, Margaret of Austria, Regent of the Netherlands, and Margaret's successor, Mary of Hungary (Catherine's sister). (41) This was based on circumstantial evidence. There is little cartographical evidence pointing to Franciscus Monachus as the author. The rationale was that if the tapestries were commissioned by a member of Catherine's family, either Margaret or Mary (for Catherine and John), and designed by their court painter, Bernaert van Orley, it followed that they would most likely use the court astrologer, Franciscus Monachus, a noted cartographer, to provide the map. According to art historians, such as Concha Herrero Carretero and Paulina Junquera de Vega, who have studied the tapestries, the series was not commissioned by a member of Catherine's family, but by King John himself. (42)

The imagery of the three tapestries is complex and unravelling the meaning is beyond the scope of this paper. There is a theme of prosperity based on wise and virtuous leadership. There are also messages of cosmographical harmony; achievement based on science and nautical astronomy; Portuguese rulers as Roman deity and Portugal being the new Roman Empire; plus references to commerce, good fortune and destiny. Whatever the overall message is, it is clear King Manuel is an important part of the story. His personal emblem, the armillary sphere, is present in all three tapestries, including being the centrepiece of one.


Although it has been said the tapestries celebrate the exploits of Portugal under the House of Aviz, the achievements during King Manuel's rule far exceed those under his predecessors.

At the time the Portuguese empire was at or near its zenith. Under King Manuel, the sea route to India had been discovered by Vasco da Gama and this pioneering voyage was soon followed by a fleet of thirteen ships under the command of Pedro Alvares Cabral which set sail for India in March 1500. (43) On the outward journey Brazil was discovered and claimed by Portugal. (44) Other fleets followed. The Portuguese are thought to have sent out eighty-one ships from Lisbon in six convoys between 1501 and 1505. (45) The empire expanded rapidly and by 1518 the Portuguese controlled seaborne trade in the Indian Ocean with entrepots at Mozambique, Ormuz (Ormus), Goa, Malacca and Ceylon (Sri Lanka). (46) Lisbon became the gateway to Europe for spices from the East, and for goods and slaves from Africa.

In the decade 1505-1515 the quantity of spices arriving in Lisbon was more than four times that imported into Europe through Venice, which prior to the opening up of the sea route to India controlled commerce in spices and other goods coming into Europe from the Orient. (47)

During King Manuel's time Portuguese sailors also penetrated the Far East sailing as far as China. The clove-producing Moluccan islands were found and trading posts established there. (48) Prior to King Manuel's death the Portuguese could lay claim to half the earth based not merely on Papal decrees and treaties, but on discoveries, conquests and the establishment of fortified trading posts. Portugal controlled the Asian spice trade, seaborne commerce in the Indian Ocean and trade all along the African coast.

King Manuel awarded himself the title: "Dom Manuel by the grace of God, King of Portugal and Algarve, on this side and beyond the seas in Africa, Lord of Guinea, of the conquest, navigation and commerce of Ethiopia, Arabia, Persia and the Indies". (49) As Duke of Beja, prior to becoming king, he had adopted the armillary sphere as his personal insignia. (50)

The Portuguese were more than empire builders and traders. They were scientific pioneers and led the rest of Europe in the practice of nautical astronomy. During Manuel's reign there was a significant advance from traditional empirical navigation to that based on astronomy. Pilots learnt to use quadrants and new types of astrolabes; to consult charts and solar declination tables, and when in the Southern Hemisphere, to sail by the Southern Cross. (51) Historian Donald Lach said: "The ability of the Portuguese in opening and maintaining the sea road to the East rested on their success in welding the astronomers, cosmographers, cartographers, shipbuilders and navigators into an effectively working team." (52)

As the Portuguese discovered new lands, peoples, seas and stars, they challenged accepted beliefs based on the teachings of ancient philosophers and geographers. Ordinary seaman by observation "gave the lie to the greatest philosophers of Antiquity." (53) The Portuguese mariners revealed that the tropics were inhabited and the antipodes existed, contrary to ancient teachings. (54) The Iberian voyages also proved the earth was a single sphere and by so doing put an end to the theory of two spheres, one of earth and one of water, favoured by some medieval scholars. (55)

King Manuel was quick to realise that the discovery of the sea route to India would transform his country. He began an ambitious public works program. Donald Lach said: "At the waterfront in Lisbon the king's activity was most noticeable. Plans were laid for moving Casa da India and the armazem (warehouses) right down to the quay. Wharves were also reconstructed to take care of the increased traffic expected on the Tagus." (56) There was a building boom with new public buildings, palaces, churches and bridges. Historian A. R. Disney said: "the magnitude of the overall program was extraordinary for what had hitherto been just a small rural kingdom." (57) In the process the world was introduced to a new style of architecture, which later became known as the Manueline style, and which combined botanical ornamentation, nautical elements and the armillary sphere with gothic structures. (58)

It was during King Manuel's reign that the Portuguese began confidently comparing their achievements to those of ancient Rome and viewing themselves as a modern, superior version of the Roman Empire. Sixteenth century writers, such as Duarte Pacheco Pereira in 1506, when speaking of King Manuel used the titles Emperor and Caesar. (59) Manuel transformed Portugal from a rural backwater to a global power. Like a Roman Emperor, he spent freely on luxury items especially those celebrating his overseas enterprises. For example he acquired from Flanders tapestries commemorating Vasco da Gama's voyage (60) and others celebrating military victories. (61) There were also celebratory maps made as gifts for foreign princes such as the highly decorative Miller atlas, made by Lopo Homem and Pedro and Jorge Reinel, with illustrations provided by Antonio da Holanda, intended as a gift by Manuel for King Francis I of France. (62)

As mentioned, the pinnacle of achievement under the House of Aviz, and during King Manuel's reign, was the discovery by Vasco da Gama of the sea route to India. The route is not shown on the terrestrial sphere; however, the place where the expedition commenced, Lisbon, and the port where it arrived in India, Calicut, are the only cities named.


It is likely that Lopo Homem, King John's master of making nautical charts, and head of a distinguished family of Portuguese cartographers, was the author of the map used as the model for the terrestrial sphere. (63) He was born in the late fifteenth century and died around 1563. Only four of his works are known to have survived, ranging in date from 1519 to 1554, including two signed world maps. (64) One of these, his planisphere of 1519 (Fig. 3.), is part of the Miller atlas. (65) The planisphere is a decorative, circular, rather crude world map measuring 33 cm in diameter. It differs greatly from his other signed world map (dated 1554) which is an elegant, refined work displaying the mapmaker's improved technique and knowledge of geography.

The terrestrial sphere and Lopo Homem's planisphere of 1519 have a number of common elements. Both are circular maps with a large number of mainly non-existent islands and a relatively small number of names (19 on the planisphere; 29 on the sphere). The names on the planisphere are in Latin, with Roman lettering, and those on the terrestrial sphere are also in Roman lettering and mainly in Latin. There are differences in nomenclature, for example on the planisphere, the Anatolian peninsula is named "ASSIA MI[N]OR" (Asia Minor) and the name "PERSIA" appears further East. On the terrestrial sphere the names used in these areas are "TURCHIE" and "BABILONIA" respectively. The different nomenclature could be looked upon as a point of argument against Lopo Homem being the mapmaker of the terrestrial sphere. However the tapestries were a special commission which required the mapmaker to produce a special map--one relevant to the theme and messages of the tapestries. "Turchie" and "Babilonia"; and "Tartaria", "Judea" and "Italia", are part of the story being told by the "Earth Under the Protection of Jupiter and Juno" tapestry. All have significance in the history of the Roman Empire. (66) The overall story, as discussed, is about the achievements of the Portuguese within which comparisons are made to ancient Rome. Place and area names have been chosen accordingly.

Lopo Homem's planisphere covers a wider area showing the coastal regions of North and South America in the West, and more of the Far East. The differences in geography are primarily due to the planisphere being, most likely, ten years or so older than the terrestrial sphere. During this time, through discoveries, the knowledge of the world had advanced. The obvious difference is the planisphere is clearly pre-Magellan. With seas surrounded by a vast land-mass stretching from the Americas to the Far East, the influence of the theories of Ptolemy and the ancient writers is evident.

Both maps have similar, and inaccurate, images of the Red Sea, Persian Gulf, Caspian Sea and the island of Madagascar. Also both have antiquated, although different, depictions of Africa. Southern continental land-masses are portrayed on both.

Curiously the name "Africa" on the planisphere has a noticeably small "i". The letter looks like it was inserted as an afterthought by the mapmaker. The words "Africae Pars" on the terrestrial sphere also contain a very small "i", for no apparent reason.

On the planisphere, Lopo Homem has drawn unusual hatching or shading in parts of the sea, mainly in the southern hemisphere. A form of shading can also be found in the sea on the terrestrial sphere. It is two toned and extends north of the Equator in the East, into the northern Indian Ocean, Persian Gulf, Caspian Sea and beyond.

Another stylistic aspect pointing to common authorship, is the way some of the coastal outlines have been drawn. This is particularly noticeable in East Africa. On the planisphere there are a large number of inlets with red non-existent islands dotted along the coastal fringe. The east coast of Africa on the terrestrial sphere is depicted in a similar way. Again there are numerous small non-existent islands dotted along the coast, although not coloured red.

More symbols appear on the terrestrial sphere, such as flags, crosses, buildings, animals and human figures, which are all part of the map's story and its celebration of an empire. The illustrations may have been provided by royal illuminator Antonio da Holanda who collaborated with Lopo Homem (and Pedro and Jorge Reinel) on the Miller atlas (61) The only symbols on the planisphere, apart from depictions of mountains, rivers and lakes, are numerous sailing ships in the oceans.


There is an affinity between the terrestrial sphere and Oronce Fine's world map of 1531 (Fig. 4.). On both the shape of Africa, and the depiction of its lake and river systems, is similar. Cape Lopez, on the west coast of the continent, has the same exaggerated appearance. There are also similarities in the depictions of the Persian Gulf and the Indian sub-continent, although there are some differences notably in the size and shape of the Red Sea.

Both maps have prominent southern continents. Fine's version is wholly south of the Tropic of Capricorn while that on the terrestrial sphere has a promontory extending north of the Tropic. In the sea between southeastern Africa and the southern continent both maps show two large islands; one being Madagascar and the other an oversized, and misplaced, Zanzibar. The outlines of Madagascar differ. Both are crude and inaccurate; neither reflects Portuguese knowledge of the island in the second decade of the sixteenth century. However, it is this area of the maps--the segment showing the two islands between southeastern Africa and the southern continent, where the affinity between the works is most obvious.

Fine's map has been linked to a number of other works including a globe by Johannes Schoner, dated 1533, (68) a set of anonymous globe gores (ca. 1535) (69) and three other globes--the Gilt Globe (ca.1528), kept in the Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris; the Nancy Globe (ca.1530-1540) preserved in the Musee Lorrain, Nancy; and the Paris Wooden Globe (ca.1535) also in the Bibliotheque Nationale.

There are clear indications from the way land is configured in the East, including the southern continent, that Fine's map, Schoner's globe and the anonymous globe gores have an affinity with the terrestrial sphere. There are some variations. For example the anonymous globe maker has split Zanzibar into two islands, perhaps to accommodate information from the crew of the Victoria about a small barren island they discovered in the vicinity. (70) The circumnavigation is marked by a line across the gores.

And instead of showing a promontory of the southern continent extending north of the Tropic of Capricorn, the gores depict an island south of Taprobana (Sumatra) crossing the Tropic, named Iona vel Ioanna (Iona or Ioanna). (71)

It is not known which is the earliest of these works. We do know the Portuguese had firsthand knowledge of the East. For this reason, and national pride, it is unlikely the Portuguese court, for the commission, would have placed reliance on maps from non-Portuguese sources. It is also worth noting that the full scale coloured pattern (the cartoon) containing the terrestrial sphere would have been prepared months, perhaps years in advance. Large tapestry series could take years to design and weave. (72)


The Spheres' tapestries are an important, yet mysterious, series, completed in, or after, 1528. (73) The set was commissioned by King John III to celebrate the achievements of Portugal under the House of Aviz, particularly during the reign of his father, King Manuel I. The greatest of these accomplishments was the discovery by Vasco da Gama of the sea route to India.

This analysis shows that it is unlikely any members of Catherine's family were involved in the commissioning of the tapestries.

It is likely the terrestrial sphere, the centrepiece of the "Earth Under the Protection of Jupiter and Juno" tapestry, was the work of Portuguese cartographer Lopo Homem. It is one of the earliest surviving maps to depict an assumed southern continent and could be the earliest known map to show the continent extending north of the Tropic of Capricorn, south of modern day Indonesia.

The map is a celebratory image of the Portuguese empire with its continental parts identified by the words "Africae Pars" (African Part), "Asia Pars" (Asia Part), and "Hantipodes Pars" (Antipodean Part). To supplement these territorial claims Portuguese flags are positioned along the African coast, and in Asia. There is also a flag on a promontory of the southern continent. This flag may symbolise a discovery but it is more likely a symbol of possession.

There is an affinity between the terrestrial sphere and French cartographer Oronce Fine's world map of 1531, Johannes Schoner's globe of 1533 and an anonymous globe gores of ca.1535.

The terrestrial sphere with its apparent territorial claims will add to the debate about Portuguese discovery of Australia. It is the only known Portuguese map from the middle decades of the sixteenth century depicting an assumed southern continent, and the only known Portuguese map containing a claim of sovereignty over part of the continent.


(1) See Patrimonio Nacional, 1986, p.100.

(2) The marriage took place in Anyaguia, Spain in the presence of Charles V on 24 Sept. 1524. Catherine entered Portugal from Spain in 1525. See Tremayne, 1908, p.208.

(3) Jordan Gschwend, do Carmo Romao, & Quina, 2012.

(4) See Patrimonio Nacional, 1986, p. 100.

(5) Brotton, 1997, p. 17. See also Barghahan, 1985, p. 128. To further cement relations between the kingdoms, Charles V married Isabella, John III's sister on 10 March 1526.

(6) Concha Herrero Carretero in Ortiz, Carretero & Godoy, 1991, p.55.

(7) Junquera de Vega, 1973, v. 10, p.19

(8) Barghahan, 1985, p.128.

(9) Delmarcel, 1999, p.136. King John's brother, Prince Luiz (1506-1555), was known for his interest in the arts and cosmology. He was a competent artist and patron of the arts and may have contributed to the imagery. He was mentor to Francisco de Holanda and perhaps the author of the first four "Creation" designs in Francisco de Holanda's De aetatibus mundi. See Bury, 1986, pp.15-48.

(10) Carretero in Ortiz, Carretero & Godoy, 1991, p.55.

(11) See Patrimonio Nacional, 1986, p.100.

(12) Jordan, 2000, p.290.

(13) See Delmarcel, 1999, p. 115. On each panel there is an unidentified manufacturer's mark.

(14) In private correspondence of 19 May 2016, Prof. Delmarcel, said: "The set of the Spheres indeed does not show any more the Brussels city mark, because the inferior selvedges, where this mark was applied, have been replaced in later times."

(15) See Delmarcel, 1999, p.136.

(16) See Delmarcel, 1999., p.119

(17) Raczynski, 1847, p.136. See also Jordan, 2000, p.290.

(18) Hooykaas, 1979, pp.42-67.

(19) Hooykaas, 1979, p.54.

(20) Jordan, 2000, p.272.

(21) See Ortiz, Carretero & Godoy, 1991, p.62.

(22) See Levenson, 1991, p.146.

(23) Lopo Homem's world map of 1519 is part of the Miller atlas acquired by the Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris in 1897 from Benigne-Emmanuel Miller.

(24) The Cantino world map (or planisphere) is under the care of Biblioteca Estense, Modena, Italy.

(25) An 1843 redrawing of Jorge Reinel's lost world map of ca.1519 is preserved in the Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris.

(26) Skoda, Lantschner & Shaw, 2012, p. 175.

(27) Prestage, 1933, p.212.

(28) Prestage, 1933, p. 214.

(29) Scammell, 1989, p.200.

(30) Hooykaas, 1979, p.53.

(31) Lach, 1965, bk.1, p.170.

(32) Lach, 1965, bk.1, p.118

(33) Lach, 1965, bk.1, p.177.

(34) Lach, 1965, bk.1, p.178.

(35) For an insight into the relations between John III and Charles V, see Diffie & Winius, v.1, 1985, pp.280-285.

(36) Jordan, 2000, p.287.

(37) These symbols are not restricted to Africa, similar symbols can be found in Europe and Asia.

(38) The original of the chart of the Indian Ocean ca.1510 is kept at the Herzog August Bibliotek, Wolfenbuttel, Germany.

(39) See Masefield, [197-], p.395. An original of Oronce Fine's map can be found in the British Library, London and a copy in Shirley, 2001, pl.60. For a copy of Peter Apian's map see Shirley, 2001, pl.45.

(40) Translation provided by Prof. Michael Reeve, Pembroke College, Cambridge Univ.; private correspondence 19 Oct. 2006.

(41) See Hewitt, 2010, p.27.

(42) See Patrimonio Nacional, 1986, p. 100, and Vega, 1973, p.19.

(43) Lach, 1965, bk.1, p. 119.

(44) See Diffie & Winius, 1985, p. 189.

(45) Diffie & Winius, 1985, p. 198.

(46) Boxer, 1969, p.48.

(47) See Lach, 1965, p.119 and Diffie & Winius, 1985, p.207.

(48) See Diffie & Winius, 1985, p.374.

(49) Levenson, 1991, p.146. See also Prestage, 1933, p.268.

(50) Jose Teixeira in Levenson, 1991, p.146.

(51) See Diffie & Winius, 1985, p.141.

(52) Lach, 1977, p.418.

(53) Hooykaas, 1979, p.14.

(54) Hooykaas, 1979, p.12.

(55) See Randles, 2000, ch.ix, p.8.

(56) Lach, 1965, p.99.

(57) Disney, 2009, p. 166.

(58) Hooykaas, 1979, p.54.

(59) Hooykaas, 1979, p.53.

(60) Levenson, 1991, p.152.

(61) See Woodward, 2007, p.1014.

(62) Disney, 2009, p. 170.

(63) Cortesao & Teixeira da Mota, v.1, 1960, p.49.

(64) Woodward, 2007, p.988.

(65) Destombes, 1937, pp.460-464.

(66) Gibbon & Bury, 2004.

(67) See Destombes, 1937, p.460.

(68) French geographer, Lucien Gallios, described the maps as "resemblance parfait" (a perfect likeness). Gallois argued that Fine's is the earlier work and was copied by Schoner. See Gallois, 1890, p.92. German author, Franz von Wieser put the contrary argument. See Wieser, 1881 (repr.Amsterdam, Meridan, 1967, pp.79-80). In this article, Fine's map is treated as the earlier of the two.

(69) See Shirley, 2001, pl.63. The National Library of Australia has a digitised reproduction of these gores. The catalogue describes the gores as "Terrestrial globe of Johannes Schoner 1523/24." Shirley doubts they are the work of Schoner and tentatively dates them as ca.1535. The words "terra Francesca nuper lustrate" (the land of Francis lately explored), written on North America, are most likely a reference to Giovanni Verrazzano's French sponsored voyage to North America in 1523/24. Verrazzano did not return to France until July 1524, so it is doubtful the gores are from Schoner's globe of 1523. In this article the gores are described as anonymous and given the date ca.1535.

(70) Joyner, 1994, p.229.

(71) The island is in a similar position to the promontory marked with a flag straddling the Tropic of Capricorn. Iona (or Ionna) appears as the name of a non-existent island on a number of maps in various Indian Ocean locations e.g. Waldseemuller's 1507 world map. See Shirley, 2001, pl.30.

(72) Campbell, 2000.

(73) See Delmarcel, 1999, p.136.


BARGHAHAN, B. von., (1985), Age of Gold, Age of Iron: Renaissance Spain and Symbols of Monarchy, University Press of America, Lantham.

BOXER, C.R., (1969), The Portuguese Seaborne Empire 1415-1825, Hutchinson, London.

BROTTON, J., (1997), Trading Territories: Mapping the Early Modern World, Cornell Univ. Press, NY.

BURY, J.B., (1986), "Francisco de Holanda and his Illustrations of the Creation", Portuguese Studies, 2:15-48.

CAMPBELL, T.P., (2000), How Medieval and Renaissance Tapestries Were Made, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY.

CORTESAO, A. & TEIXEIRA DA MOTA A., (1960), Portugaliae Monumenta Cartographica, Coimbra, Lisbon.

DELMARCEL, G., (1999), Flemish Tapestry from 15th to the 18th Century, Iannoo, Tielt.

DESTOMBES, M., (1937), "Lopo Homem's Atlas of 1519", Geographical Journal, 90:460-464.

DIFFIE B. & WINIUS G., (1985), Foundations of the Portuguese Empire 1415-1580, Univ. Minnesota Press, Minneapolis.

DISNEY, A.R., (2009), A History of Portugal and the Portuguese Empire, v.1, Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge.

GALLOIS, L., (1890), Les Geographes allemands de la Renaissance, Leroux, Paris.

GIBBON, E. & BURY, J.B., (2004), The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Wildside Press, Maryland.

HARRISSE, H., (1892), The Discovery of North America; a Critical Documentary and Historic Investigation with an Essay on the Early Cartography of the New World, Including Descriptions of Two Hundred and Fifty Maps or Globes Existing or Lost, Constructed Before the Year 1536, Henry Stevens and Son, London.

HEWITT, j., (2010), "The Terrestrial Sphere of 'the Spheres' Tapestries", The Globe, 64:27-48.

HOOYKAAS, R., (1979), Humanism and the Voyages of Discovery in 16h Century, Portuguese Science and Letters, North Holland, Amsterdam.

JORDAN, A., (2000), Portuguese Royal Collecting After 1521: The choice between Flanders and Italy in cultural links between Portugal and Italy in the Renaissance, Oxford Univ. Press, Oxford.

JORDAN Gschwend, A., DO Carmo ROMAO, M. & Quina J., (2012), A rainha colecionadora: Catarina de Austria, Circulo de Leitores, Lisbon.

JOYNER, T., (1994), Magellan, International Marine, Camden.

LACH, D., (1965), Asia in the Making of Europe, v.1 "The Century of Discovery", Univ. Chicago Press, Chicago.

--(1977), Asia in the Making of Europe, v.2 "A Century of Wonder", Univ. Chicago Press, Chicago.

LEVENSON, J.A., (ed.), (1991), Circa 1492, Art in the Age of Exploration, Yale Univ. Press, New Haven.

MARCEL, G., (1893), Reproductions de Cartes & Globes Relatifs a la Decouverte de l Amerique du XVIe du XVIIIe siecle, Ernest Leroux, Paris.

MASEFIELD, J. (ed.), [197-], The Travels of Marco Polo, Heron Books, London.

ORTIZ, A.D., Carretero, C.H. & Godoy, J.A. (eds), (1991), Resplendence of the Spanish Monarchy Renaissance Tapestries and Armor from Patrimonio Nacional, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY.

PATRIMONIO NACIONAL, (1986), Catalogo de Tapices, Siglo XVI, v.1, Patrimonio Nacional, Madrid.

PRESTAGE, E., (1933), The Portuguese Pioneers, A&C Black, London.

RACZYNSKI, A., (1847), Dictionnaire Historico--Artistique du Portugal, Renouard, Paris.

RANDLES, W.G.L., (2000), The Evolution of Columbus ' 'India' Project by Portuguese and Spanish cosmographers in the Light of the Geographical Science of the Period, in Geography, Cartography and Nautical Science in the Renaissance, Ashgate, Aldershot.

SCAMMF.LT,. G., (1989), The First Imperial Age, Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge.

SHIRLEY, R., (2001), The Mapping of the World--Early PrintedMaps 1472-1700, Early World Press, Riverside (Conn.)

SKODA, H., LaNTSCHNFR, P. & Shaw, R., (eds.), (2012), Contact and Exchange in Later Medieval Europe, Boydell Press, Woodbridge.

TREMAYNE, E.E., (1908), The First Governess of the Netherlands: Margaret of Austria, Methven & Co., London.

VEGA, J. DE, (1973), La Astronomia en los tapices del Patrimonio Nacional, Reales Sitios, 10:19.

WIESER, F. VON, (1881), Magalhaes-Strasse und Austral-Contient. Auf den Globen Johannes Schoner. Beitrage zur Geschiichte der Erdkunde im xvi. Jahrhundert, Meridan, Amsterdam.

WOODWARD, D., (ed.), (2007), The History of Cartography, v.3 "Cartography in the European Renaissance", Univ. Chicago Press, Chicago.

John Hewitt [1]

[1] John Hewitt is a retired corporate lawyer living in Sydney. He was educated at St Patrick's College and Victoria University, Wellington, New Zealand. He is an independent researcher and member of the Australian and New Zealand Map Society. Contact:

Caption: Figure 1. Earth under the Protection of Jupiter and Juno, the third tapestry of 'the Spheres' series (courtesy Patrimonio Nacional, Madrid).

Caption: Figure 2. Detail of the terrestrial sphere on Earth under the Protection of Jupiter and Juno tapestry (courtesy Patrimonio Nacional, Madrid).

Caption: Figure 3. Lopo Homem, planisphere, 1519, part of the Atlas Miller (facsimile [C] (National Library of Australia, Map RA 319)

Caption: Figure 4. Oronce Fine, Nova et Integra Universi Orbis Descriptio, 1531 (1890 reproduction) (National Library of Australia, Map RM 2932)
COPYRIGHT 2017 Australian and New Zealand Map Society, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2017 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Hewitt, John
Publication:The Globe
Article Type:Essay
Date:Mar 1, 2017
Previous Article:Mapping a stateless continent.
Next Article:When do linguists make their best (cartographic) work?

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2021 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters |