Giovanni Antonio Magini

We are presenting 25 splendidly coloured copper engraving maps of various parts of Italy from the first edition of the famous atlas Italia (Bologna, 1620) by Giovanni Antonio Magini (1555-1617).

Magini was born in Padua in 1555. He studied at the University of Bologna where he obtained his degree in philosophy in 1579.

At the same university he was appointed to the professorship of mathematics in 1587 following the death of Egnatio Danti, succeeding over the rival applicant Galileo Galilei.

Magini can be called a polymath as his interests comprised geography, astronomy, astrology and mathematical sciences such as trigonometry and surveying but also 'miracula medica', 'mysteria chimica', and 'metoposcopy' (the art of predicting someone's personality from the pattern of lines on their forehead).

Accordingly Magini wrote many scientific treatises on various topics as planetary theories (where he supported a geocentric system of the world, in preference to Copernicus’ heliocentric system), the use of astrology in medicine or the use of quadrants in surveying and astronomy.

Concerning his interest in geography, his first publication was a commented edition of Ptolemy’s Geographia (Cologne, 1596).

Magini's main work which took him much of his life is Italia, an atlas providing detailed maps of each Italian region with exact nomenclature and historical notes.

The production of Italia, started around 1594. It turned out to be very expensive and led Magini to take on various commissions besides his teaching at Bologna, though the governments of Messina and Genoa also supported Magini financially in this project.

One such commission took him to Mantua and the court of the Duke Vincenzo Gonzaga. The Mantuan court was one of the most brilliant of its time in Italy and Gonzaga acted as an important patron of arts and sciences. He was the employer of Monteverdi and Rubens.

He also supported Magini who became court astrologer and tutor in mathematics to Gonzaga's sons Francesco and Ferdinando.

Gonzaga also assisted Magini with his atlas project and allowed for cartographic material of the various states of Italy to be brought to him. Magini finally dedicated the atlas to Gonzaga and his map of the duchy of Monferrato to Caterina Medici Gonzaga. He generally dedicated many of his maps to rulers, aristocrates, and ecclesiastics. Thus he dedicated the map of Bologna to Cardinal Sforza.

Though most of the maps were finished by 1613, the atlas was for the first time published in 1620, three years after Magini’s death, by his son Fabio in Bologna.

The influence of Magini’s cartographic work was most remarkable, so the main cartographers and Dutch editors have drawn the cartography of Italy after the maps of Magini. Even Ortelius used 2 of his maps which were already finished in the 1590ies: the maps of Bologna (Ort124) and of Romagna (Ort134).