Terra Brasilis: The Miller Atlas

Lopo Homem and Antonio de Holanda, 1519.

By Google Arts & Culture

Terra Brasilis, Atlas Miller (ca. 1519) by Pedro ReinelOriginal Source: French National LibraryFrench National Library

The Miller Atlas is a set of hand-drawn maps made in Portugal around 1519 and currently kept at the National Library (Bibliothèque Nationale) in France. An inscription on the back of one of the maps says it was made by the cosmographer Lopo Homem, on the order of King Manuel I of Portugal. However, it is believed that the cartographers Pedro Reinel and his son Jorge Reinel, as well as the illustrator Antonio de Holanda, also had a hand in creating the atlas.

The atlas combines geographical and visual elements from three very different sources: portolan charts, Ptolemaic maps, and illuminated (illustrated) miniatures from Flanders.

The map known as Terra Brasilis or Regionis Magni Brasilis (pages 22 and 23) shows the South American continent, from the north coast of what is now Brazil to beyond the Río de la Plata estuary to the south. It contains a large number of place names—more than any other map of Brazil produced in the decades before or after.

Far to the northwest, in a region devoid of place names, is the mouth of either one or two large rivers identified by Marques as the Amazon.

Curiously, the person who decorated this map made a mistake when labeling the Tropic of Capricorn, marking it as the Tropic of Cancer (Circulus Cancri) instead.

Atlas Miller (ca. 1519) by Pedro ReinelOriginal Source: French National LibraryFrench National Library

The world map that opens the Miller Atlas reflects a view of the world as an enormous and continuous continental landmass that encircles the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, making a western route to the Indies impossible. It is suggested that, in the run-up to Magellan's departure, this error and the reduced size of Africa could have been a propaganda tool, designed to discourage King Charles I of Spain in his plans to sail to the Maluku (formerly the Moluccas or Spice) Islands.

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