Douce Atlas

Douce Atlas

Venice (Italy) — Early 15th century

Encased by graceful figures, a wooden binding and a decorative leather case: seven exquisite nautical charts and two double-page Quattrocento miniatures in a wooden atlas in codex format

  1. Both the original wooden binding and the original case of this cartographic work have been preserved

  2. The seven nautical charts are accompanied by two double-page miniatures by the Maestro della Parousia

  3. The parchment pages were pasted onto thin wooden boards, which form the codex

Douce Atlas

  1. Description
  2. Facsimile Editions (1)
Douce Atlas

The Bodleian Library preserves a special cartographic work which has remarkably survived together with its two original mantels – a binding made of two wooden boards and a leather-covered wooden case. Although both were intended to protect the seven folded portolan charts inside, the maps of the so called Douce Atlas probably never actually went to sea. Who created the Venetian atlas at the beginning of the 15th century and for whom remains a mystery to this day. Then as now, the two large double-sided miniatures showing the Annunciation to Mary as well as Paul and Mark the Evangelist in delicate colors and tender lines enchant every beholder.

Douce Atlas

Named after its only recorded owner Francis Douce (1757–1834), the Douce Atlas holds a number of mysteries. It is not known who created the cartographic work, nor who commissioned it, let alone used it. Nevertheless, the atlas is one of the most exciting manuscripts in the Bodleian Library in Oxford: its seven vellum charts and the two double-page miniatures are pasted onto wooden boards, which are only slightly thinner than the wooden covers of the codex. This materiality reminds the atlas of multi-layered diptychs, as the maps are literally unfolded. At the same time, the maps are transformed into the form of a codex, which had been established for atlases since the Late Middle Ages.

Protective Covers for Seafaring

Both the wooden binding, which is decorated with elaborate intarsia, as well as the matching box were used to protect the maps inside – both on land and at sea. The case, also made of wood, is lined with dark pink parchment and covered with dark leather on the outside, adorned with wonderful floral cuir-ciselé ornaments and three inscriptions. These were cut into the leather with a sharp tool, creating sublime reliefs. Moreover, a small dot pattern was embossed into the background. The inscriptions in Gothic letters read: "In dio haver ben", "par bon amor" and "per bone respecto".

Questionable Usage

There was probably once a strap attached to the case, which theoretically allowed it to be slung over the shoulder and taken along everywhere. Two lugs on the side also allow the carrying of other nautical instruments. However, the Douce Atlasnever really seems to have been taken to sea. This is at least indicated by its exceptionally good condition. It is also likely that a work of such precious materiality was intended for representation rather than actual usage.

Focus on the Mediterranean

However, the high-quality nautical charts would have been perfectly practicable for this purpose. They show the coastlines and islands of the Black Sea, the Mediterranean (divided into five maps) and the European Atlantic coast including large parts of Great Britain. The delicate illustrations highlight important harbors in red, while small islands appear in green and blue.

Gorgeous Miniatures as Framework

The maps are not only enclosed by their wooden binding. The first and last double page of the codex show splendid miniatures, each with two figures in smoothly draped robes and in charming colors. The Annunciation to Mary prefaces the work: teh Virgin is wearing a gold-lined blue cloak and is facing the Archangel Gabriel, who is about to announce the miraculous message to her. At the end of the codex, on the other hand, two individual saints are depicted: the Evangelist Mark and Paul with a book and sword. They are attributed to the so-called Maestro della Parousia, who was active in 15th century Italy and created a worthy framework for this remarkable atlas with his graceful figures.


Alternative Titles
Atlante Nautico Veneziano
Size / Format
20 pages / 29.2 × 14.5 cm
Early 15th century
Gothic Hybrida
7 maps and 2 double-page miniatures
7 portolan charts: 1) Chart of the Black Sea with the Sea of Azov and Sea of Marmara; 2) Eastern Mediterranean, including the Greek archipelago, Levant, and Egypt; 3) Mid-Eastern Mediterranean, including the Peloponnese, Crete, parts of the Adriatic Sea i
Artist / School
Previous Owners
Francis Douce

Available facsimile editions:
Il manoscritto Douce 390 e 390*. Atlante Nautico Veneziano
Istituto dell'Enciclopedia Italiana - Treccani – Rome, 2022
Limited Edition: 399 copies
Facsimile Editions

#1 Il manoscritto Douce 390 e 390*. Atlante Nautico Veneziano

Il manoscritto Douce 390 e 390*. Atlante Nautico Veneziano
Il manoscritto Douce 390 e 390*. Atlante Nautico Veneziano Copyright Photos: Ziereis Facsimiles

Limited Edition: 399 copies
Binding: Both the original binding and the matching box (shelfmark Douce 390*) have been faithfully reproduced for this facsimile edition. The maps and miniatures are housed in a wooden codex decorated with intarsia. The wooden box measures 29.9 × 18.3 × 5.2 cm and is covered with dark leather incised with elaborate floral ornaments and inscriptions.
Commentary: 1 volume by Andrew Dunning, Piero Falchetta, and Valentina Baradel
Language: Italian
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.
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