Atlas of Henry VIII

Atlas of Henry VIII – Belser Verlag – Barb. Lat. 4357 – Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (Vatican City, Vatican City State)

Venice (Italy) — 1542–1547

Made for the imperial aspirations of the English king: the magnificent luxury atlas of Henry VIII created by the famous Venetian cartographer Battista Agnese

  1. Battista Agnese (c. 1500-64), a native of Genoa, was the leading mapmaker in Venice and more than 70 "Agnese atlases" are still known to exist today

  2. King Henry VIII of England (1491–1547) had ambitions of creating an overseas empire

  3. In addition to his many wives, Henry VIII has also gone down in history as the "Father of the Royal Navy".

Atlas of Henry VIII

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Atlas of Henry VIII

Born in Genoa, Battista Agnese established a cartographer’s workshop in Venice that produced some of the finest cartographic works of the 16th century, including commissions for European heads of state such as King Henry VIII of England. His magnificent atlas, created ca. 1542, is divided into four interrelated units: the cosmos that order the world in the universe, then the three oceans in flat projection, the parts of the world surrounding the Mediterranean and Europe, and finally the world map in oval projection, which consolidates the globe in an all-encompassing overall view. It also includes a still-functional compass rose embedded into the wood of the back cover, as well as an elegant and accurate depiction of the famous Barberini library, which was added about a century later. This is a fine example of the luxury atlases that were produced for the wealthiest and most sophisticated personalities of Renaissance Europe.

Atlas of Henry VIII

This atlas was created ca. 1542 in Venice for King Henry VIII (1491–1547) along with another smaller codex intended for his son Edward and is the work of Genoese-born Battista Agnese (c. 1500 – 1564), considered to be one of the most accomplished and prolific cartographers of the 16th century. All parts of this atlas are related to each other; they bind the conquests, new discoveries, and adventures of mankind into a universal structure. The atlas has no room for longer texts, and, like the rest of Agnese’s works, cosmographic and cartographic images are its primary language. It is impressive that, apart from several individual maps, 77 of these codices are still in existence today, which, quite different in extent and equipment, were found at the most important courts of that period.

A Statement of God’s Divine Order

The atlas begins with the King’s coat of arms and an incipit with his list of titles: Heinricus octavus Die gratia Anglię Francię Hibernię Rex fidei defensor (Henry the Eighth, by the Grace of God, King of England, France, and Ireland, Defender of the Faith). This is followed by a declination table for inter alia calculating the summer and winter solstice and an Armillary sphere with a small globe, then a double-page miniature with the signs of the zodiac, again circling a small globe. Aside from being artfully adorned, these opening pages are not only intended to place our world within the order of the cosmos, but Henry’s role in it as one of God’s earthly regents. On the inside of the back cover, a wind- or compass rose is drawn with 32 directions, in the center of which the instrument for determining direction is recessed into a circular depression. It is fascinating that the small compass embedded in the wooden plate – quite unlike other specimens – still works today.

The State of Geographic Knowledge

The next three double-page portolan charts depict the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific Oceans, all reflecting the most recent discoveries made by European seafarers. Six double-page portolan charts depicting various regions of Europe, the Mediterranean, and the Black Sea follow. The atlas concludes with Agnese’s famous world map in oval projection decorated on the edges with the twelve classical compass winds taking the form of cherubs, which are presented with their names in Latin and Greek. The routes taken by the explorer ** Ferdinand Magellan** (1480–1521) and the conquistador Francisco Pizarro (ca. 1471/76–1541) are depicted in black and gold, respectively. The golden color represents the legendary gold treasures that Pizarro brought back to Spain, while the dark color of the Magellan route may have imaginatively reminded one of the precious cloves and nutmeg from the Maluku Islands. Parts of the world that are yet unknown to Europeans and thus incomplete on other maps in the atlas, such as the western coast of South America, are completed in the world map because it is intended to give an overall impression rather than be an accurate representation.

The Barberini Library

A century after Henry VIII’s death, the manuscript was acquired by the Barberini family, who sent agents across Europe to acquire such book treasures. The Barberini were members of the Roman nobility who rose to prominence during the 17th century and eventually had a member of their family placed on the throne of Saint Peter in 1623 as Pope Urban VIII (1568–1644). Their wealth and excellent taste as patrons of the arts were put on display in the Palazzo Barberini, which also housed the Barberini library, which is now a core section of the Vatican's Biblioteca Apostolica. The hemisphere depicting the globe and the most recent geographic knowledge of the New World would have been outdated by the mid-17th century. Therefore, a piece of paper with a colored print was pasted over the parchment page. It depicts the Barberiniana, or more precisely the library room in the south wing of the Barberini’s city palace at Quatro Fontane, which Francesco Barberini (1597–1679), cardinal-nephew of Pope Urban VIII, had specially arranged for his ambitious book collection. Having just been remodeled in the Baroque style between 1627 and 1638, the image shows the recently completed hall, which features two medallion portraits with his papal uncle Maffeo on the left and Francesco himself on the right. Finally, the Barberini had the binding embossed with golden bees, their heraldic symbol.


Alternative Titles
Atlas Heinrichs VIII.
Size / Format
30 pages / 29.0 × 21.0 cm
10 double page maps, 2 compass roses, titles and emblems of Henry VIII
King Henry VIII of England (1491–1547)
Artist / School
Previous Owners
King Henry VIII of England (1491–1547)

Available facsimile editions:
Atlas of Henry VIII – Belser Verlag – Barb. Lat. 4357 – Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (Vatican City, Vatican City State)
Belser Verlag – Stuttgart, 2020
Limited Edition: 999 copies
Detail Picture

Atlas of Henry VIII

British Isles, France, and the Low Countries

Complete with Portolan lines, this map accurately depicts the coastlines, major rivers, mountain ranges, and most important cities of Western Europe, albeit with some notable exceptions, especially Scotland. The remoteness of SCOTIA (as it is labelled) relative to Venice, where the atlas was made, is obvious by how sparsely labelled it is. Otherwise, Agnese made every attempt to include the names of as many coastal cities as possible while drawing islands in red, green, and gold.

Atlas of Henry VIII – Belser Verlag – Barb. Lat. 4357 – Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (Vatican City, Vatican City State)
Single Page

Atlas of Henry VIII

World Map

This is one of the most famous maps created by Battista Agnese. Surprisingly accurate, it represents the state of knowledge of mid-16th century European cartographers and is rendered in an oval projection resembling a modern map. Nonetheless, this is a synthesis of the arts meant for display as a luxury item than being a practical aid for navigators.

Brush strokes of gold leaf are judiciously applied across the double-page image, ranging from marking significant cities to highlighting the hair of the figures blowing the world’s winds. However, the most interesting features of this map are the lines that run from the Iberian Peninsula tracing the voyages of explorers like Columbus and Magellan, which had only recently been undertaken.

Atlas of Henry VIII – Belser Verlag – Barb. Lat. 4357 – Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (Vatican City, Vatican City State)
Facsimile Editions

#1 Atlas Heinrichs VIII. Battista Agnese. Barb. Lat. 4357

Belser Verlag – Stuttgart, 2020

Publisher: Belser Verlag – Stuttgart, 2020
Limited Edition: 999 copies
Binding: Brown Barbarini leather binding with rich gold ornament
Commentary: 1 volume by Ingrid Baumgärtner (136 pages)
Language: German
1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size) Reproduction of the entire original document as detailed as possible (scope, format, colors). The binding may not correspond to the original or current document binding.
Price Category: €€ (1,000€ - 3,000€)
Edition available
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