FLORENTINE, Probably 17th Century, after Fra Egnazio Danti


The 1564 Medici-Danti Map of California


Pen and Ink, Gouache and Watercolor on Paper, laid down on Canvas

44 5/8 x 38 5/8 inches
(113.7 x 98 cm)

A Manuscript Map of California, Baja California, Northern Mexico, and the South-Western United States as of August 1564



L’ultime parti note nel Indie occidentali


Dated on the edge of the cartouche:  “M.D. LXIII.   M.AG” [1564…the month of August]

In the 1560s Cosimo I de’Medici, the powerful Duke of Florence, undertook a major renovation of the Palazzo Vecchio, the venerable palace that to this day dominates the city at the Piazza della Signoria.  For the Sala della Guardaroba, literally the wardrobe room, but in fact the storeroom of the Duke’s most precious holdings, Cosimo conceived of a grand decorative project that was to reflect in one space the entire cosmos --both an indication of the Duke’s ambition and an allusion to his name.  The plan, supervised by Giorgio Vasari, involved the construction of walnut cabinets to contain the Medici treasures, on the outside doors of which were to be placed large hand-painted maps specially commissioned to document and illustrate the current knowledge of the world.  Portraits of famous men were to decorate the tops of the cabinets and two large globes –one representing the terrestrial world, the other celestial—were to descend from openings in the ceiling.  The commission for the maps, inspired by Ptolemy’s Geographia, was given to the celebrated mathematician and cosmographer, Fra Egnazio Danti (Perugia 1536-1585 Alatri).  Fifty-three maps were ultimately created.  Thirty were conceived and executed by Danti between 1563 and 1575.  The remaining twenty-three were completed by Stefano Bonsignori between 1576 and 1686.  They remain in place in Florence in the room for which they were created.


The present work is an exact-size painted, drawn and inscribed copy of Danti’s map of California –which includes present-day California, Baja California, northwest Mexico, and the southwestern part of the United States, as well as a portion of the Pacific Ocean and, at the extreme left, Japan.  Its date of execution is uncertain.  The inscribed date of August 1564 is that of Danti’s original.  The present work, clearly drawn in the presence of the map in the Palazzo Vecchio, would seem to be slightly later, most likely from the seventeenth century.  It is the only such work known and appears to be otherwise undocumented and unique.  Furthermore both the present map and the one in Florence have been ignored in the extensive history of the cartography of California, which has focused on printed maps. It is a rare, beautiful, and fascinating document of the early exploration of the Americas.


In the preparation of his map, Danti relied not only on published maps and atlases, but on manuscripts and literary reports by travelers and explorers.  The most geographically accurate regions are those on the coast, which by 1564 had been visited by such figures as Francisco de Ulloa and Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo and recorded in printed maps by Mercator, Ortelius, and Battista Agnese.  Specifically designated are places well-known to us today from Monterey Bay through Los Angeles to San Diego.  The names inscribed on the map are those current in 1564.  For example, San Diego was known as San Miguel (on the map as “P.[orto] di S. Michele”) from its naming by Cabrillo in 1542 until Sebastian Vicaino surveyed the coast in 1602, bestowing its current name.  The area of Los Angeles is designated “P. del Fuego” and it was indeed known as the Bahia de los Fumos or Bahia de Fuegos (Bay of Smoke or Bay of Fires) from the smoke and fires set by Indians hunting game on the hillsides of what is now San Pedro Bay.


The inland areas of the southwest are, on the other hand, derived from literary accounts –from Marcos de Niza and, in particular, that of the Coronado Expedition of 1540-42.  For that reason, the location of many Indian settlements is generic if not fanciful.  For example, while Tiguex is in New Mexico, Quivira –visited by Coronado in 1541 and placed on the map as if it were in California-- is believed to have been located near the great bend of the Arkansas river in central Kansas.


The present map is a unique document of the knowledge of California in Europe –and specifically at the Medici court—in 1564, the year of the death of Michelangelo, and fewer than seventy-five years after the landing of Columbus.


Below are some of the place-names inscribed on the map, together with their modern equivalents:


West Coast ofCalifornia (North to South)

Sierra Nevada = Santa Cruz Mountains

C. Nevado = Cabo de Nieve = Cypress Point (Pebble Beach) or Point Pinos

P. de totos Santos = Todos Santos = Cojo Anchorage

C. Galeras = Cabo del Galera = Point Conception

P. del Fuego = Bahia de los Fumos or Fuegos = San Pedro Bay (Los Angeles)

P. di San Michele = San Miguel = San Diego

C. de Crus = Cabo de Cruz = Punta Banda, Baja

C. del Ingano= Cabo del Engaño (Cape Deceit) = Punta Baja /Baja Point

Ancoras = Punta de las Ancoras = Punta San Juanico (Scorpion Bay)

(Punta di Lea = Part of misreading of “Punta de las Ancoras” as “Punta di Lea” and “Ancoras” on Agnese map of 1542)

Basos = Bajos = The Abreojos

C. de Corintes = Corrientes = Possibly Cabo San Lazaro (Magdalena Bay)

C. Cassinaja = probably Cabo de California = Cabo San Lucas


East Coast of Baja California

C. S. Crus / C S + = Cabo Santa Cruz = La Paz

Mare Vermiglio=Mar Bermejo (Vermillion Sea) Sea of Cortez or Gulf of California


Pacific Islands

I. Giapa[n] / Parte del Ysaola Giapa[n] = Japan

Neg = Nagasaki

Mare del Sur ovvero Pacifico (Southern or Pacific Ocean) = Pacific Ocean

Tropico del Cancro = Tropic of Cancer

Cazones Y = Cazones Isola = San Benito Islands or Natividad

Y. del Riparo = Isla de Riparo = thought to be identical with Ceros or Cedros Island

I.dei Cedri = Isla de Cedros =Cerros or Cedros Island


Inland America

Terra o Mare Incognito = Unknown Land or Sea

Rio di S. Piero y Paolo = Quivira River = Arkansas


Mainland Mexico

Y dei Xalisco – Island of Jalisco



A translation of the central cartouche follows:


The Most Recent Areas Noted in the Western Indies

In the present panel is exhibited the Kingdom of Cibola with the additional and most recent areas discovered toward the West and the North.  And since there is no clear knowledge except from the western edge up to Porto Primero and from the northern strip until the city of Tuccano and the Sierra Nevada, the remainder of the space there is left blank not wanting to place anything there for which we do not have certain knowledge until such time that God pleases to give us notice.


This country was discovered by Fray Marcos de Niza, a Franciscan monk, who returning to New Spain, relating many great things to the Court, who then later sent there Francisco Vasquez [de Coronado], who found everything that the Provincial Superior Fray Marcos to have said to be incorrect, and although the names of the cities were true, and that the houses were made of stone, and very high, having four or five floors with comfortable and attractive underground residences, corridors and rooms for the winter.


The afore-mentioned Francisco being to the seven cities of the Kingdom of Cibola asked about the Indians of the Sea, of the West, and of the North, how many there and how far, and they responded not having knowledge of any and that they did not know if there were any on land or on sea.


References Consulted

Warren A. Beck and Ynez D. Haase, Historical Atlas of the American West, Norman-London 1989.

Herbert E. Bolton, ed. Spanish Exploration in the Southwest, 1542-1706 (New York 1916).

Erwin G. Gudde, William Bright California Place Names: The Origin and Etymology of Current Geographical Names (Los Angeles 2010)

Derek Hayes, Historical Atlas of California. Berkeley-Los Angeles-London 2007

Greg Niemann, Baja Legends (San Diego 2002)

Nellie Van de Grift Sanchez: Spanish and Indian place names of California: their meaning and their romance (San Francisco 1922)

Henry Waup Wagner, The Cartography of the Northwest Coast of America to the year 1800 (Berkeley 1937).


For the Palazzo Vecchio map

Ettore Allegri and Alessandro Cecchi, Palazzo Vecchio e I Medici; guida storica (Florence 1980), p. 308, no. 43

Alessandro Cecchi and Paola Pacetti, eds. La Sala delle Carte Georgrafiche in Palazzo Vecchio; “capriccio et invenzione nata dal Duca Cosimo (Florence 2008).