The historical works of Paulinus Venetus (also known as Paolino da Venezia or Paolino Minorita; d. 1344) are intriguing for their attempt to blend visual and textual presentation, for their breadth of historical and geographical focus, and for their author's connections with Venice, the Franciscan Order, and the courts of Avignon and Naples under Pope John XXII and King Robert the Wise.
A Franciscan who served in the papal office of the Penitentiary and eventually became the bishop of Pozzuoli, Paolino was connected with some of the most intriguing movements, places, and individuals of the later Middle Ages in Italy. He was sufficiently recognized as a writer to attract a comment by Boccaccio (albeit a rather unfavorable one); he was also the first known medieval author to work with Tacitus's Annals, ensuring his interest for scholars tracing the development of the humanist movement in its early generations. Most significant for Michelina Di Cesare's book, the manuscripts of his historical works contain important maps (including a world map, regional maps of Italy, and maps of the Holy Land and its cities) and a small geographical treatise, De mapa mundi that accompanies the world map. Probably the best-known piece of Paolino's writing among modern scholars, it contains the frequently quoted statement that two maps--textual and visual--are essential for understanding the world. As a rationale for the use of maps and as a larger statement on the importance of the visual, this is an important text for scholars of visual evidence on par with Bartolo da Sassoferrato's apology for his use of diagrams in the Tyberiade.
Di Cesare is completing an edition of Paolino's De mapa mundi, and in some ways the present book reads like an extended introduction to the edition. It is, nevertheless, an important study, which clarifies significant aspects of Paolino's works in relation to their cultural context. In the four chapters of her present book, Di Cesare sets out to review Paolino's career, his literary works, and the manuscripts that contain them. Her first concern is to situate the treatise De mapa mundi with relation to Paolino's larger historical work and the dossier of maps and other images that he incorporated into his project. She then proceeds to clarify the relationship between the works of Paolino, Marino Sanudo, and Petrus Vesconte, and finally to examine the sources forDe mapa mundi.
Throughout, Di Cesare highlights the role of Venice, Avignon, and Naples as intellectual centers, influential in gathering and producing geographical and historical knowledge. In Naples, the proximity of the library at Monte Cassino enabled Paolino to encounter Tacitus, while the court preserved the memory of Peter of Eboli and his illustrated work on the hot springs of southern Italy in the time of Frederick II. In Venice, the influence of Petrus Vesconte's cartographical work is witnessed by Paolino's use of it in his histories and by Marino Sanudo's independent use of Vesconte's charts in his Liber secretorum fidelium crucis.
Vesconte's hybrid world map is a fascinating artefact on its own, combining as it does the circular view of the oikumene familiar from the mappaemundi with a view of the Mediterranean basin derived from the portolan charts. Finally, Avignon is revealed as a center of geographical information where both Paolino and Marino Sanudo drew on materials from the papal library for their respective projects. Di Cesare posits a lost source for Paolino's De mapa mundi, perhaps a miscellany containing excerpts from the geographical work of Pomponius Mela.
Di Cesare's book usefully illuminates the place and purpose of geography in political and cultural thought, especially its relevance to the crusades and ecclesiastical politics. Although the reader might wish for a broader framing and exploration of these topics, the author successfully explores the origins of an important text for the theory of cartography and for the interconnection of text and image more broadly in the later Middle Ages and helps uncover more about the role of the Franciscan order in developing and popularizing geographical knowledge, especially of the eastern Mediterranean. Finally, she succeeds in clarifying the relationships between three important figures in early fourteenth century geographical thought, Paolino Minorita, Marino Sanudo the Elder, and Petrus Vesconte. The obvious connections among their works (especially their maps) have intrigued scholars for some time, and Di Cesare's careful analysis of their respective use of existing sources creates a new picture of the interrelationship of three independent thinkers and creators who drew on a similar set of sources but for different purposes and with different intellectual horizons. Like all works that restore the complexity of real life to corners of the distant past, this book gives a great deal of satisfaction.
The book will be of most interest to scholars of cartography and geographical thought but also merits of the attention of anyone engaged with understanding the intellectual cultures of Avignon, Venice, and Naples in the early fourteenth century and those interested in the links between Franciscans, geographical knowledge, and the eastern Mediterranean.