Paolo Toscanelli

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       Paolo Toscanelli (1397-1482) was a physician, cosmographer, astronomer, mathematician, geographer and author. In the 1474 he was asked to explain his theory that India, China and Japan could be reached by sailing west to King Alfonso V of Portugal. This he did in a letter and a map which he drew to illustrate his ideas.

     Although the original and any copies of his map or maps are lost, reconstructions of his work, based on his descriptions in the letter to Alfonso, and the maps of Waldseemüller and Behaim, have given us some idea of what his maps contained.

     “Vertical lines running from the top to the bottom of the map give the distances from east to west. The horizontal lines show the distances from south to north....On my map there are twenty-six sections from Lisbon sailing due west, of which each one is 250 miles wide...up to the great city of Quinsai....From the island of Antilia, which you call the ‘Island of the Seven Cities,’ to Cipangu [Japan] there are ten divisions, in other words 2,500 miles or 625 leagues.”

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     The stamp from Viet Nam shows the island of Cipangu off the coast of Cathay, with the island of Antilia just below the lower leg of the calipers. By his reckoning the distance from Portugal to Kinsai was 6,500 miles. Apart from the omission of the western hemisphere, this distance was far short of the actual distances involved. Columbus, who was influenced by Toscaneli, shortened the distance even further.

     Seventeen years before his letter to King Alfonso Toscaneli painted another map which is the subject of the Laotian stamp.

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