Columbus's Imago Mundi

Columbus's Imago Mundi

Leuven (Belgium) — Between 1480 and 1483

Part of world history because it made Christopher Columbus go off course: his annotated personal copy of the astronomical-geographical opus magnum by the French theologian Pierre d'Ailly.

  1. The astronomic-geographic work and opus magnum by the French theologian Pierre d’Ailly (1351–1420)

  2. Christopher Columbus (1451–1506) trusted D’Ailly’s outdated information and went off course

  3. Thus, the course of history was influenced by the text, with was published ca. 1483 by one of the first printing houses in Flanders

Columbus's Imago Mundi

  1. Description
  2. Detail Picture
  3. Single Page
  4. Facsimile Editions (1)
Description
Columbus's Imago Mundi

Christopher Columbus trusted in this text more than all the other suggestions of his contemporaries: the astronomical-geographical text Imago Mundi by Pierre d’Ailly. The most famous work by this significant French theologian from the year 1410 had not been at the cutting edge in Columbus’ day for a long time. The false calculations by the explorer were a result, as was the discovery of a new continent. Nevertheless, Pierre d'Ailly's Imago mundi is a wonderful and impressive testimony to the cosmographic knowledge of the early 15th century, especially since this copy of the edition printed in the early 1480s by John of Paderborn in Leuven is truly unique due to numerous personal notes by the famous discoverer. The Latin text is also accompanied by a great number of large diagrams and illustrative drawings, all colored in a beautiful palette of red, yellow and orange pigments, which are another fascinating feature of this remarkable incunabulum.

Columbus's Imago Mundi

Christopher Columbus trusted in this text more than all the other suggestions of his contemporaries: the astronomical-geographical text Imago Mundi by Pierre d’Ailly. The most famous work by this significant French theologian from the year 1410 had not been at the cutting edge in Columbus’ day for a long time. The false calculations by the explorer were a result, as was the discovery of a new continent. Pierre d’Ailly’s Imago Mundi is nonetheless a wonderful and impressive testimonial to the cosmographic knowledge of the early 15th century, and the personal copy of Christopher Columbus with his notes is truly unique!

Columbus’ Gorgeous Edition

The edition of the Imago Mundi text from the Biblioteca Capitular y Colombina in Seville was printed ca. 1483 in Leuven in modern Belgium. The printer was Johann von Paderborn, one of the first printers in Leuven and in Flanders as a whole. Pierre d’Ailly’s magnum opus is recorded on 288 pages measuring 28 x 21 cm. Subdivided into 18 chapters or tractates, each illustrated with gorgeous and informative drawings, it offers a terrific overview of the astrological-geographical wisdom of the early 15th century.

A Witness to Historical Events

The author of this work was Pierre d’Ailly (1350/1–1420), a significant French theologian and cardinal. D’Ailly, inter alia, participated in the disputes of the Western Schism, the Council of Constance, and the inquisition of the reformer Jan Hus. As a result, he was a witness to the most significant historic events of his time. Additionally, he composed numerous works of a mystic nature and displayed his deep interest in astrology. His most famous work is nevertheless the astronomical-geographical text Imago Mundi from 1410. This is compiled from various sources from Antiquity and the Middle Ages and contains tractates on the ordering of the cosmos and the Earth along with a description of the three continents that were known at that time.

The Idea of the Indian Expedition

The fact that this was the personal copy of Christopher Columbus is of even greater historical significance. The important explorer furnished the book with notes from his own hand, in addition to some comments left in the book by his son Hernando. The numerous comments suggest just how intensely the explorer grappled with the text of the Imago Mundi. The text had a measurable influence on the journeys of exploration and gave Columbus – as is indicated in the research – his initial idea for an expedition to India. Nonetheless, Columbus relied more on the already 80 year old and outdated information of D’Ailly than on contemporary references, to his detriment, and drifted off course as a result. Yet, this led to one of the most important events in world history: the discovery of the Americas!

Codicology

Alternative Titles
Pierre d'Ailly's "Imago Mundi"
Size / Format
288 pages / 28.0 × 21.0 cm
Origin
Belgium
Date
Between 1480 and 1483
Language
Illustrations
Various colored charts and drawings
Content
Astronomical-geographical text by Pierre d’Ailly owned by Christopher Columbus
Artist / School
Previous Owners
Christopher Columbus (1451–1506)
Ferdinand Columbus (1488–1539)

Available facsimile editions:
Imago Mundi
Testimonio Compañía Editorial – Madrid, 1990
Limited Edition: 980 copies
Detail Picture

Columbus's Imago Mundi

Orbits of the Celestial Bodies

In harmonious shades of pink and yellow, this diagram shows the orbits of various celestial bodies - including planets as well as the sun and moon - around the earth in the center and is thus a wonderful representation of the geocentrism of the Middle Ages. For example, the accompanying text describes how the sun spends 30 days and 10 hours in each sign of the zodiac during its year-long orbit around the earth.

Imago Mundi
Single Page

Columbus's Imago Mundi

Division of the world

This schematic representation of the world shows the division into Europe, Asia and Africa that was common in the Middle Ages. All three continents are located in the upper half of the circle, which is divided into many smaller rectangles, mostly denoting regions. The empty space below the equator visualizes the great unknown that many areas of the earth still represented for 15th century Europeans.

In the upper left quarter, in addition to the inscriptions, three special features stand out, which were probably intended to serve as geographical markers: On the left edge, an expanse of water is depicted next to the word "Oceanus" and below it the Atlas Mountains in the form of three bright yellow 'hills'. Further to the right, the Nile can also be seen making its way through Africa from the dark-colored areas of Europe. An inscription on the Asian part, which identifies a region as the "habitat of elephants", which already aroused great fascination in the Middle Ages, also makes us smile today.

Imago Mundi
Facsimile Editions

#1 Imago Mundi

Publisher: Testimonio Compañía Editorial – Madrid, 1990
Limited Edition: 980 copies
Binding: Leather binding in Mudejar style with studded gold plated. It comes in gray velvet box with additional volume.
Commentary: 2 volumes (816/288 pages) by Antonio Ramírez de Verger, Juan Pérez de Tudela y Bueso, and Johannes Gerson
Language: Spanish
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.
Facsimile Copy Available!
Price Category: €€
(1,000€ - 3,000€)
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