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The Philadelphia Print Shop, Ltd.Mythical Geography

Frisland & Other
Zeno Brothers' Mythical Lands

Zeno Map

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The History

A 16th century work, entitled De I Commentarii del Viaggio, purports to tell of the travels of Nicolo and Antonio Zeno. This volume gave an account of a 14th century voyage by the Zeno brothers in the Northern Atlantic. They were supposed to have sailed extensively in these relatively unknown waters, including to the new lands of Frisland, Icaria, Estotiland, and Drogio, the latter two of which were associated with the American continent.

Nicolo Zeno, a descendant of the Zeno brothers, supposedly found the manuscript along with a map, which he published in Venice in 1558. It was claimed that this showed that it was not the Genoese Christopher Columbus who had discovered America, but the Venetian Zeno brothers a century before. In the map, Frisland and Icaria are islands near Greenland, Estotiland is part of the North American continent, and Drogio is a large island nearby, perhaps Nova Scotia. It is now generally thought that this volume was a complete fabrication, but it was widely accepted as true when first issued.

The original map was published in 1558 and this was followed in 1561 by another version issued by Giordano Ruscelli, also from Venice. Gerard Mercator, in his seminal world map of 1569 included the Zeno geography, and this depiction was followed closely by Abraham Ortelius in his influential map of the Northern Atlantic in 1573. The non-existent lands of the Zeno brother's account, then, were spread widely to most other cartographers of the late sixteenth century.

The most interesting of these mythical lands is Frisland, which Mercator included in a separate inset on his 1595 map of the North Pole. This non-existent island led to considerable confusion in the mapping of Greenland and Baffin Island in the following centuries. Martin Frobisher, in his important exploration of 1576, reported "sight of a high and rugged land." What he had sighted was the coast of Greenland, but as he was following Mercator's map of the world, he thought he had seen Frisland (which he claimed for England in the name of Queen Elizabeth). When he then got to Baffin Island, he thought he was at Greenland, and so the reports of all his explorations around Baffin Island were ascribed to Greenland. Thus it was that for many years "Frobishers Strait" (which interestingly is actually a bay) was put at the southern tip of Greenland rather than on Baffin Island. Frisland, which was accepted by most cartographers during the following century, appeared as late as the eighteenth century on a map by T.C. Lotter!

A Selection of Maps

After Abraham Ortelius. "Scandia." From G. Botero's Relationi Universali. Venice: I. Giunti, [1599-]1640. 3 x 4. Copper engraving. Strong impression. Italian text. Very good condition.

An interesting map of Scandinavia issued in Giovanni Botero's popular work on the nations of the world. The map is a re-engraving of a plate which first appeared in 1582. It went through a number of modifications, including the unusual engraved line which circles the continents on this plate, though the basic geography reflects the original rendering after Abraham Ortelius. This depiction includes surprising accuracies and also delightful misconceptions. The engraving is very strong and the calligraphy graceful. This is a fascinating map from the late sixeenth or early seventeenth century and a lovely Italian engraving. $125



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