Chart of Juan de la Cosa

Juan de la Cosa1500

Naval Museum

Naval Museum
Madrid, Spain

The "Map of Juan de la Cosa" is a multicolored cartographic document produced by hand. It is drawn on two pieces of calfskin or vellum parchment joined at the center. It is signed and dated, as was usual for portolan charts (medieval cartographic documents), on the narrowest part of the skin in the left-hand margin with a single line: "Juan de la Cosa made this at El Puerto de Santa María in the year 1500." The inscription appears below an image of Saint Christopher. It was common to include religious images on these kinds of documents, usually of the Virgin or the Crucified Christ.

The map's creator, Juan de la Cosa, was a Cantabrian sailor from the town of Santoña who had settled in El Puerto de Santa María. He accompanied Christopher Columbus on his first 2 voyages (and possibly the third) and Alonso de Ojeda on 2 others, making up to 7 trips to the Indies. He died in 1510 at the hands of indigenous locals in Cartagena de Indias in Colombia.

The map is world-renowned, and its importance lies in it being the first cartographic document to represent the New World. It also demonstrates the transition from medieval to modern cartography, serving as a model for the later "Padrón Real" (Royal Register), which was a master map created at the House of Commerce from 1508. Although it lacks geographic coordinates, it shows the equator and the Tropic of Cancer, as well as the meridian that passes through the Azores. The latter was used as a geographic reference to establish the dividing line between Portugal and the Crown of Castile and Aragon in the Treaty of Tordesillas.

Juan de la Cosa must have made the map when he returned from his first expedition with Ojeda, which arrived back in Seville in June 1500. Considering how lavishly the map is embellished, it seems likely that it was a special assignment, possibly from Archbishop Fonseca. He was in charge of organizing trips to the Indies to give the Catholic Monarchs a comprehensive view of the kingdom's new discoveries and an idea of what the new world looked like.


  • Title: Chart of Juan de la Cosa
  • Creator: Juan de la Cosa
  • Date Created: 1500
  • Location Created: Cádiz, Spain
  • Provenance: After the map was produced the only reference to its existence was made by Peter Martyr d'Anghiera in 1511. No more was heard of it until 1832, when Baron Walckenaer, the Dutch ambassador in Paris, bought it from a merchant. The baron showed it to his circle of friends and Baron von Humboldt was the first to make it public. In 1853 the diplomat's library was put up for sale by his heirs. Ramón de la Sagra alerted the Spanish Ministry of the Navy to the importance of acquiring the document and keeping it in Spain. The Ministry of the Navy shared his concern with the government, which took on the cause and asked de la Sagra to represent it at auction, where the Map of Juan de la Cosa was described as "the most interesting geographical plan that we have from the Middle Ages." The map was bought by Spain for 4,321 francs: a considerable sum at that time. It passed through many hands before being acquired by the state for the Hydrographic Depot and moved to the Naval Museum in 1853 by Royal Order.
  • Type: Cartography
  • Original Source: Museo Naval Madrid.
  • Rights: Museo Naval, Madrid - All Rights Reserved
  • Medium: Pigment, Parchment
  • Width: 96cm
  • Height: 186cm

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