This map is an extraordinary and pioneering mineralogical map of Italy and a landmark in the thematic cartography of the region. At first, it appears to simply be a large and attractive conventional map, albeit printed on linen cloth. However, upon closer inspection, the map is revealed to be an exquisitely detailed guide to the mineral wealth of Italian Peninsula and islands. Printed in Paris in 1820, the map was compiled by Nicolas Maire, royal engineer and geographer to King Louis XVIII, and is based on careful selection of the best available published sources, as well as groundbreaking information acquired by Napoleon Bonaparte’s officials during the lengthy French occupation of Italy.
The map is founded on an accurate topographic template and features detailed information on the road systems that traverse the region. It embraces all of Italy, as well as the adjacent regions of neighboring countries. Presented along the sides of main map are 6 detailed city plans, including: Florence, Venice, Turin, Rome, Naples and Milan, each accompanied by a key to main monuments with explanatory text.
A sophisticated array of symbols presented thorough the map identifies innumerable sites where 18 different types of minerals can be found throughout the region. The map was made for practical use by government officials, mining investors, academics and naturalists – anyone who had an interest in Italy’s mineralogy and geology. The map was printed on light, yet high quality, linen cloth so that it could be easily carried in a traveller’s pocket, as one followed the delineated roads on their way to the marked mining areas.
The mineralogical symbols are explained in the legend entitled, ‘Mines et Carrieres’, located in the lower right of the main map. These include symbols for Or (gold), Argent (silver), Cuivre (copper), Fer (iron), Etain (tin), Plomb (lead), Mercure (mercury or quicksilver), Alun (alum), Antimoine (antimony), Souffre (sulfur), Sel Gemme (rock salt), Forges (metal forges / foundaries), Marbre (marble), Granit (aux Alpes) (Granite, in the Alps), Calcaire (limestone), Charbon (carbon), Eaux Thermales (thermal springs) and Eaux Froides (artesian springs).
The map is an unprecedented compilation of a variety of the very best sources, many of which appear for the first time on a single printed map. Some of Maire’s intelligence was gleaned from named authorities, for the note above the mineralogical symbols reads: ‘Disseminees dans cette Carte d’Italie Conformement aux indications puisses dans les differens ouvrages qui traitent de la minerologie de cette terre classique, surtour dans ceux de Saussure, Dolomieu, Robbilante, Ferber, Axuni, Galanti et autres.’ (translation: ‘Disseminated throughout this Map of Italy [are symbols] in accordance with the information that appears in different works that concern the mineralogy this classic land, such as those of Saussure, Dolomieu, Robillante, Ferber, Axuni, Galanti amongst others.’).
These named sources include Horace Bénédicte de Saussure (1740-99), a Swiss physicist, mountaineer and amateur geologist who is often hailed as the ‘founder of alpinism’. He travelled though many of the Alpine regions on the map, making insightful observations as to geology and mineral deposits. While not all of his information was scientifically correct, he made many discoveries that provided an excellent foundation for future investigations.
Another key source were the writings of Johann Jakob Ferber (1743-90), a Swedish-Prussian scientist and traveller who was responsible for revolutionary observations on the mineralogy of Northern Italy and what is today Slovenia. He extensively explored Italy from Tuscany northwards, making highly accurate and detailed descriptions of mineral deposits and mines, described in his book, Travels through Italy: in the years 1771 and 1772 (1776). Additionally, Ferber’s Briefe aus Wälschland (Prague, 1773), features a magisterial study on the mineralogy of the eastern Italian Alpine regions, such as Trento and South Tyrol. His work on the mercury mines in Slovenia Beschreibung des Quecksilberbergwerks zu Idria (Berlin 1774) is considered to be the definitive foundational scientific study on the mineral, and much of the information on mercury mines throughout on the map is derived from Ferber.
Unlike many early thematic maps of Italy, the present work gives equally detailed coverage to her main islands of Sicily and Sardinia. Maire derived much valuable information from the politician and scholar Dominico Alberto Azuni’s (1749-1827) Essai sur l’histoire géographique, politique et morale de la Sardaigne (1798), the first comprehensive study of Sardinia. For the mineralogy of Sicily, his main source was Giuseppe Galanti’s (1743-1806) Nuova Descrizione Storica e Geografica Delle Sicilie (1790).
While not specifically mentioned, the map’s detailed coverage of the mineralogy of what is now Slovenia (a historically important mining region) is derived from both Ferber and the Austrian physician and chemist Belsazar Hacquet (c. 1735-1815). He was responsible for the first scientific description of the Julian Alps, which run through the modern Italian region of Friulia, Slovenia and the Austrian state of Carinthia. His great work Oryctographia Carniolica, oder die Physikalische (1778-89), featured excellent maps replete with mineralogical data.
Importantly, yet unmentioned (perhaps for political reasons), it would seem that much of the Maire’s mineralogical information regarding Peninsular Italy was obtained from manuscript sketches, descriptions and documents brought back to Paris by Napoleonic officials. Following France’s conquest of Italy at the beginning for the 19th Century, French officials performed a systemic and scientific re-evaluation of the region’s geography and natural resources. While they certainly had covetous motives in mind, they also introduced advanced scientific standards of inquiry and classification that did much to improve the knowledge of Italy for the common good. The present work seems to be the first printed map to feature many of these discoveries on a single, integrated composition.
Maire’s map has an important place in the history of the mineralogical and geological cartography of Italy. While it does not seek to define geological zones, its accurate, detailed and intensive data as to the locations of mineral deposits all across the region renders it well ahead of its time. It is by far the most detailed mineralogical map of Italy created to date, and it greatly precedes the comprehensive scientific geological mapping of Italy.
While early attempts were made to map the geology of certain parts of Italy, the comprehensive geological mapping of the region was somewhat arrested. This is due to a host of factors, the foremost being that it was not until 1870 that Italy was unified into a single nation state, such that before that time the various multinational parts of Italy were surveyed unevenly. Moreover, continual political instability and economic dislocation during much of the 19th Century discouraged geological mapping projects.
Prior and during period of the production of the present map there had only been a few of what can be termed proto-geological experiments in Italian cartography. Such projects include Gregory Watt’s “Pro-geological Map of Italy” (1804), an unpublished manuscript map that identified some of the strata of Peninsular Italy and Giovan Battista Brocchi’s Carta Fisica del suolo di Roma (1820), a soil map of the city of Rome. While they represented impressive intellectual advances, these endeavours were far from being comprehensive and scientific geological maps, and they yielded far less practical value than the present map.
Indeed, the first truly advanced and scientific geological map of a large area of Italy was Professor Angelo Sismonda’s Carta Geologica di Savoja, Piemonte e Liguria (1862), a masterpiece which was published almost two generations following Maire’s work.
Nicolas Maire (fl. 1803 -1840) was a respected and well-connected Parisian cartographer, although much of his biography remains a mystery. He is thought to have started out as military engineer during the French Revolutionary period. Assisted by veteran mapmaker, Louis Brion de la Tour, he established himself as a commercial cartographer during the heady days of the reign of Napoleon Bonaparte, when groundbreaking geographical information flowed into Paris from across Europe, a fringe benefit of the Emperor’s conquests. Maire seems to have had a penchant for large, separately produced works, and his first known project, done in conjunction with Brion de la Tour, was the Carte élémentaire et statistique de l’Allemagne (1803). Shorty thereafter, he produced a monumental map of the French capital Plan de la ville de Paris dressé géométriquement d’après celui de la Grive, avec ses changements et augmentations (1803), which is perhaps his best known work. He was also responsible for the wall map, Carte itinéraire et politique d’Europe d’après les derniers traités de paix, Avec les plans des principales villes d’Europe (1813) and the Carte itinéraire de la France (1820).
Maire must have been somewhat skilled at negotiating the treacherous political environment of the period. While he prospered under Napoleon, shortly after the restoration of the monarchy in 1814, Maire was appointed to become an Ingenieur et Geographe du Roi by King Louis XVIII, the former emperor’s arch-nemesis.
The map was published on Maire’s behalf by the house run by the partnership of Felix Delamarche and Charles Dien, located at ‘rue de Jardinet No. 13’, Paris. The firm was the successor to the prominent enterprise run by Felix’s father, Charles François Delamarche (1740-1817).
Maire’s mineralogical map of Italy is very rare. We note a reference to an 1816 edition, printed on paper, which sold at auction in 2004 and only 2 other appearances of the present 1820 edition on the market during the last generation. We can find no references to the present 1820 edition in institutional holdings, but note 3 examples of an 1821 edition (British Library, University of Amsterdam and the University of Leiden).
References: N/A – Rare. Cf. OCLC: 71505251 and 557786237 (referencing the 1821 edition).