Dr Jo Wheeler -
The Portolan Chart

‘Georgio Sideri dicto Calapodha fecit nel anno 1570’.
Portolan Chart of the Mediterranean by Georgio Sideri, also known as Callapodha.

El Greco’s presence in Venice is firmly documented by an order issued by the Duke of Candia in August 1568. Within three days, “Manoli dacypri” known as “Mazapeta” must deliver “the drawings” given to him in Venice by El Greco (“maistro Menegin Thetocopulo”) to “ser Zorzi Sidero detto Calapoda”.
Georgio Sideri (known as Callapodha) was a prolific producer of charts. His earliest known work dates from 1537 and there are 15 known surviving charts held in collections across Europe. This chart extends his known activity by five years.
Sideri belonged to a well-known Cretan family and he was a frequent visitor to Venice between 1538 and 1554, as the master of a merchant ship. Archival evidence shows that he was resident in Crete from 1564 up to his death in 1581.

At the chart’s neck are the Venetian arms of the Bragadin family. It has long been claimed that the arms refer to Marcantonio Bragadin (1523 – 1571), governor of Cyprus when the chart was drawn. His brutal death at the hand of the Ottoman Turks at Famagusta in August 1571 is legendary (he was flayed alive) so it is tempting to link the map to this gruesome story. However, a much more probable link is to Filippo Bragadin, elected Captain of Candia in 1569.
The flags, tents, the Atlas Mountains and the representations of Genoa and Venice are distinctive features of Sideri’s work. However, the nameless towns at the bottom of the map are more delicate drawings and may be the work of another artist. The influence of other cartographers including Diogo Homem, Grazioso Benincasa and Battista Agnese, can clearly be seen in the work.

The map appears in the catalogue of the library of the Earl of Ashburnham in 1861. In 1897 it was sold to the famous collector Henry Yates Thompson and in 1899 it was sold at auction to the leading book dealer James Tregaskis, owner of the Caxton Head at 232 High Holborn. The map was then purchased by the Central School of Arts and Crafts for its teaching collection.

Dr Jo Wheeler is Director of International Development at Central Saint Martins. His research field is the social history of Renaissance Venice. For over a decade, he has been working on recipes and formulas and books of secrets in Renaissance Italy. He is the author of Renaissance Secrets (V & A Publishing, 2009) and his current research project focuses on an unpublished manuscript of glass formulas belonging to a leading glassmaking family from Murano at the end of the sixteenth century. His specialist knowledge enabled him to identify that the portolan chart dated 1570 in the College's Museum and Study Collection was completely unknown to the international community of experts and to bring this remarkable object literally back onto the map.