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.