Gastaldi’s “Tierra Nueva”, the first printed map of the American East Coast

[Giacomo Gastaldi], TIERRA NUEVA. [Venice: Giovanni Battista Pedrezano, 1548.]
Engraving, 5”h x 6 ¾”w at neat line plus good margins, uncolored. Faint toning along centerfold, a couple of wormholes and small chips to upper edge, and two very faint stains in the lower margin (much exaggerated in the scan). Very good.

The first printed map to focus on the American East Coast and the first obtainable map to depict Narragansett Bay, Block Island, New York Harbor, Long Island, the Outer Banks, and Bermuda.

Giacomo Gastaldi (ca. 1500-1566) was a Venetian engineer who relatively late in life turned his attention to cartography. In 1548 he brought out a new edition of Ptolemy’s Geography, much enhanced by a number of modern maps and called by Burden “the most comprehensive atlas produced between Martin Waldseemuller’s Geographia of 1513, and the Abraham Ortelius Theatrum of 1570”. Its greatest contributions were perhaps the two regional maps of North America, including the Tierra Nueva offered here.

Gastaldi’s map depicts the East Coast between Florida and Labrador and the Atlantic Ocean as far east as the Azores. Initially indecipherable to modern eyes, it is a remarkable attempt to reconcile the findings of two landmark voyages: that of Giovanni Verrazzano in 1524, which demonstrated the existence of a continuous coastline from Florida to Nova Scotia, and Jacques Cartier’s exploration of Newfoundland and the Gulf of St. Lawrence in 1535. Though both voyages had been recorded in printed and manuscript maps, Gastaldi was to my knowledge the first to attempt to weave together the two sets of findings, first on his world map of 1546 and then here on the Tierra Nueva.

Gastaldi divides the mainland into four distinct regions, being “Tierra del Laborador,” “Tierra del Bacalaos,” “Tierra de Nurumberg” and “La Florida.” While there is considerable detail in the coastal contours and toponymy, the interior is essentially void of information.

The map is most interesting for its treatment of “Tierra de Nurumberg” extending over present-day Nova Scotia, New England and the mid-Atlantic. The name first appeared as “Oranbega” on a manuscript world map of 1529 by Verrazzano’s brother Girolamo, where it delineated a point on the Maine coast. The term soon became magnified to mean either a mythical kingdom located along the Penobscot River or, as on this map, a large territory spanning much of the Northeast. Gastaldi names nine locations within “Nurumberg”, most of which have been identified by 20th-century readings of the Cellere Codex, a contemporary copy of Verrazzano’s report to his sponsor Francois I of France. Running roughly from southwest to northeast, these are as follows:

  • Larcadia: probably some part of the Outer Banks (per Morison and Burden) or the DelMarVa region (per Wroth and Suarez)
  • Angoulesme: New York Harbor
  • Flora: probably the southern coast of Long Island
  • le paradis: unclear
  • Brisa: probably Block Island (Morison’s view, while Stokes argues for Martha’s Vineyard, and Wroth is uncertain)
  • Po Real: unclear
  • Po Refuge: Narragansett Bay
  • Tierra de los broton and C. breton: Nova Scotia

With the exception of the last, these are the first appearances of these locations on a printed map. It also merits mention that the map also marks the first appearance of “la bremuda”, discovered in 1503 by Juan de Bermúdez.

Gastaldi’s map makes two large and interesting omissions. First, Narragansett Bay (“Po Refuge”) and Nova Scotia (“Terra de los broton” and “C. Breton”) appear contiguous, with no sign of the coastline of Massachusetts and Maine. The likely explanation is that Verrazzano was forced by the shoals around Nantucket to give Cape Cod a wide berth, then crossed the Gulf of Maine without sighting land until somewhere in the vicinity of Nova Scotia.

The other omission actually marks an advance for cartography: Gastaldi has chosen not to buy into the “Sea of Verrazzano” shown so prominently on Munster’s 1540 map of the Americas. Having coasted along the Outer Banks of North Carolina and observed only water on the other side (Pamlico and Albermarle Sounds), Verrazzano had hopefully asserted that “this [sea] is doubtless the one which goes around the tip of India, China, and Cathay.” (Cellere Codex as translated by Wroth, p. 136) On Munster’s map the Outer Banks are shown accordingly as a narrow isthmus separating the Atlantic from a northern sea providing a direct passage to the Pacific.

In all, a gem of a map, with many North American “firsts” and a fascinating back story, well worthy of study.

Burden, The Mapping of North America, #16. McCorkle, New England in Early Printed Maps #548.1. Palmer, Mapping of Bermuda, pp. 4, 14. Suarez, Shedding the Veil, #25. Background was also obtained from Morison, The European Discovery of America: The Northern Voyages, pp. 277-338; Stokes, The Iconography of Manhattan Island, vol. 2 pp. 11-29 and vol. 4 pp. 14-20; and Wroth, The Voyages of Giovanni da Verrazzano, pp. 1-216 and plates.