Opus Magnum of Claudius Ptolemy

Opus Magnum of Claudius Ptolemy – PIAF – MS. Codex No. 1895 – Biblioteca General e Histórica de la Universidad (Valencia, Spain)

Naples (Italy) — 15th century

The masterpiece of the ancient cartographer Claudius Ptolemy in the dress of the Italian Renaissance: exquisite maps of land and sea adorned with gold and silver for the pomp-loving king of Aragón

  1. The world’s first maps and atlases were created with the help of the work of the astronomer, mathematician, and geographer Claudius Ptolemaeus (ca. 100–170 AD)

  2. One of the most beautiful Ptolemy manuscripts originated at the behest of King Alfonso V of Aragon (1396–1458)

  3. The luxury atlas contains uniquely beautiful maps and nautical charts in bright colors, which are decorated with shiny gold leaf frames

Opus Magnum of Claudius Ptolemy

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Opus Magnum of Claudius Ptolemy

The great polymath Claudius Ptolemy composed a treaty in the 2nd century on geography that lost none of its value through the High Middle Ages. The first maps and atlases worldwide originated from this treatise. The atlas here at hand is one of the most beautiful adaptations of Ptolemy’s teachings. It originated in the 15th century at the behest of King Alfonso V of Aragon. The precious work is adorned with luminously colored maps and numerous ornaments of noble gold leaf.

Ptolemy Atlas

The astronomer, mathematician, and geographer Claudius Ptolemy of Alexandria composed a concise treaty on the mathematics of geography in the 2nd century, which contained a projection theory as well as the names and coordinates of 8,000 locales of the world as it was then known. His treatise, which was appended with maps at a later time, counts among the first maps or atlases of the world. Long considered to be lost, Ptolemy’s treatise – known by the title Geographia – reemerged ca. 1400 in Italy. Under the title Cosmographia the manuscript was translated from Greek into Latin by Jacobus Angelus de Scarperia and initially distributed across Europe in numerous transcripts and reprints. The edition at hand is a Ptolemaic atlas of the Biblioteca General e Histórica de la Universidad in Valencia.

Claudius Ptolemy the Scholar

Claudius Ptolemy was a Greek mathematician, geographer, astronomer, astrologer, music theorist, and philosopher. His three works on astronomy, geography, and astrology in particular were considered to be important collections of data and standard works of science in Europe during the early modern period. Aside from the comprehensive canon of important cities, in his Geographia, Ptolemy composed a geographical treatise in which the known world and its inhabitants are recorded. His definition of latitudes in the work is still good today. Ptolemy merely transmitted written instructions and tables for the creation of maps, but only made a few rough sketches himself. Later, geographical treatises were written in his name and were appended by numerous maps over the centuries. The Ptolemy Atlas is one of the most splendid and precious reprints of his work.

A Renaissance Masterpiece

The handwritten atlas from the library of the University of Valencia was most likely produced in Naples. This illuminated codex is a transcript of the geographical treatise by Ptolemy from the Royal Library of the Castello Nuovo in Naples. The manuscript was illustrated with uniquely beautiful maps of land and sea. The maps shimmer in luminous colors and are hemmed by glimmering frames of noble gold leaf. The maps are accompanied by painted angels presenting the royal crown and escutcheon of Alfonso V of Aragon. He was the patron of the unimaginably expensive manuscript. All of the map titles are recorded in colorful, gilded script and the text of the work is structured by numerous luminous red initials and markings at important points in the text.


Alternative Titles
Das Opus Magnum des Claudius Ptolemäus
Size / Format
216 pages / 44.1 × 30.5 cm
15th century
1 full-page and 26 double-page gold-framed and gold-decorated maps and 145 gold initials
King Alfonso V of Aragon, "the Magnanimous" (1396–1458)
Previous Owners
Biblioteca de San Miguel de los Reyes

Available facsimile editions:
Opus Magnum of Claudius Ptolemy – PIAF – MS. Codex No. 1895 – Biblioteca General e Histórica de la Universidad (Valencia, Spain)
PIAF – Madrid, 2021
Limited Edition: 325 copies
Detail Picture

Opus Magnum of Claudius Ptolemy


Ireland, the Isle of Man, and other smaller islands appear on the left margin of the double-page map depicting the British Isles. It is a fairly accurate depiction of the Emerald Isle that includes its major rivers with settlements marked by dots of gold ink. Since this map predates the journey of Columbus by about half a century, the Atlantic Ocean, identified in silver ink as OCCEANUS OCCIDENTALIS, is treated as the edge of the known world, or at least what can be depicted.

Opus Magnum of Claudius Ptolemy – PIAF – MS. Codex No. 1895 – Biblioteca General e Histórica de la Universidad (Valencia, Spain)
Single Page

Opus Magnum of Claudius Ptolemy

The Ecumene

Coming from the ancient Greek word for “inhabited”, the ecumene is the known, habitable world, which for mid-15th century Europeans was limited to their own continent, North Africa, and the Near East. The ecumene is presented here complete with cities, rivers, and mountain ranges using the map projection that Ptolemy so famously improved upon.

Despite depicting India as an island, a common mistake in European maps from the period, this is a remarkably accurate work of cartography. It forgoes attempting to depict the coast of East Asia, as this was almost completely unknown to European cartographers. The map is surrounded by the Anemoi, wind gods in Greek mythology who were each ascribed a cardinal direction from which their respective winds came.

Opus Magnum of Claudius Ptolemy – PIAF – MS. Codex No. 1895 – Biblioteca General e Histórica de la Universidad (Valencia, Spain)
Facsimile Editions

#1 Opus Magnum of Claudius Ptolemy

PIAF – Madrid, 2021

Publisher: PIAF – Madrid, 2021
Limited Edition: 325 copies
Binding: Rich gold-stamped leather over wooden covers with gilt edges and two brass clasps. Fine cassette with facsimile and commentary.
Commentary: 1 volume
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.
Facsimile Copy Available!
Price Category: €€€€
(7,000€ - 10,000€)
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