Ptolemy’s Cosmography

by Claudius Ptolemaeus

Claudius Ptolemaeus, one of the greatest scientists of all time – an astronomer, mathematician, geographer and map-maker – was born around. 100 A.D. in Ptolomais (upper Egypt), lived in Alexandria and died in Canopus around 160 A.D.

His work influenced science in Europe until the seventeenth century. His Geography is still the prototype of all atlases. Many of his innovations are still used in cartography, and it is said that that geographic maps are still written with “Ptolemy’s alphabet”.


Between 1406 and 1410, Ptolemy’s Greek text was translated into Latin by Jacopo Angelo da Scarperia, who worked in the papal Chancery in Rome. He changed the title in Cosmographia and dedicated the translation to the reigning pope, Alexander V. (In fact, a miniature on the first page of this manuscript shows Jacopo presenting his translation to the pope).

Many copies of his translation were made over time, including the one contained in the Vatican Library’s codex Urbinas Latinus 277, Ptolomaei Claudii Cosmographia (Claudius Ptolemy's Cosmography). This manuscript was made in Florence. The text was transcribed by the copyist Ugo Comminelli, a highly accomplished calligrapher; the maps were drawn by the cartographer Pietro del Massaio; master illuminators painted the miniatures and decorated borders.

The result of their collaboration, which was completed in 1472, is a masterpiece, a spectacular specimen of the art of bookmaking in fifteenth-century Italy.

The first owner of this manuscript was Federico da Montefeltro (1422-1482). He was the Duke of Urbino, a “condottiero” (leader of a mercenary army), and a lover and collector of books. We don’t know whether Federico himself had commissioned this codex, or if it was given to him as a gift.


Each copy is numbered and certified by the Vatican Apostolic Library
Copies available | Price subject to private negotiation

The Italian Renaissance revived the Classical Spirit

This copy of Ptolemy’s Cosmography was made in the shop of the Florentine bookmaker and scholar Vespasiano da Bisticci for Federico da Montefeltro, duke of Urbino, connoisseur, collector and patron of the arts.

Highly accomplished craftsmen were involved in creating this masterpiece: Ugo Comminelli transcribed the text, Pietro del Massaio drew the maps, and other Florentine illuminators and artists decorated the pages.

Their combined efforts produced this unrivaled masterpiece of Renaissance bookmaking.

It contains fifty-five full-page maps, and a wealth of topographic illustrations of major cities such as Florence, Rome and Constantinople.

The binding

Unfortunately, the binding of manuscript Urb. Lat. 277 no longer looks like it originally did.
When the manuscript was restored (sometime between 1779 and 1799), the surviving pieces of the original binding were incorporated in the new one.
The extraordinary features and very rich decoration of this beautiful and sumptuous binding make it stand out among those of the many other manuscripts that came to the Vatican Library from Urbino.

It includes many remarkable details that we don’t usually see in bindings made in the early years of the Italian Renaissance.

Technical characteristics

This Facsimile Codex is the faithful replica of the whole 268-page manuscript in its original format (43.5 x 59.3 cm).

  • The gilded areas in the original manuscript were reproduced by the gold-leaf transfer technique.
  • Bound entirely in hand-tooled leather with brass trim, studs and clasps.
  • Each individual detail was crafted with the greatest care, using fine artisanal methods to obtain a perfect replica of the extraordinary binding.

Press run: 500 numbered and certified copies intended for distribution to collectors and libraries all over the world.

Reference: Urb. Lat. 277

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