Documentary Evidence: Mapping-style

The Isodorean Map of 1472, an archetype of the T-O design – a circular world with three continents divided by two seas. E is at 12 o’clock and N at 9 o’clock.


Can we date the VM simply by looking at it? The parchment dates to AD 1440. Does the Map look like a 15th century map?

World maps developed dramatically as voyages of discovery revealed more and more about the Earth's surface. These voyages took off in the 15th century, just as, allegedly, the VM was being made.

How did the look of world maps evolve? Around 1100, when little was known of world geography, the world was mapped as a flat disc. Features were drawn on it from real life (the limited geography then known) and from man's imagination (the Bible, mythology, mathematical figures, symmetry, etc.). These schematic, largely fictitious maps were still being produced in the 15th century (Fig. 1) - as the voyages of exploration were being launched.

Thanks to the voyages, new geographical features began to appear in 15th century maps. Thus the Bianco Map of 1436 (Fig. 2) features a recognizable Mediterranean coastline. The VM, dated to 1440, adds new Bianco Map
The Andrea Bianco map of the world (AD 1436), shown in outline.
features to the Bianco Map. Iceland, Greenland and Vinland appear in the Atlantic (Fig. 3). The shape of the map changes. The circular Bianco Map has been squashed into an ellipse in order to accommodate the additional features.

This process continued. More voyages of discovery created more detailed maps (Fig. 4). Maps develop incrementally, feature by feature. Why would Vinland feature on the VM but on no other map after 1440?

Consider these questions:

  • Does the overall form of the VM qualify it as a possible 15th century map?
  • Why is Vinland seen on no other map? Could the VM have been shut away in the 15th century only to be seen, for the first time, in the 20th century?

Vinland Map2
The Vinland Map (1440?) shown in outline.
Martellus Map
Martellus World Map of c. 1490. (Dias’ recent circumnavigation of the Cape of Good Hope, reveals the coast of West Africa, shown in great detail.)