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Paolo del Pozzo Toscanelli

Dawn of Discovery

Toscanelli's Map of the World

Paolo del Pozzo Toscanelli (1397-1482), born and lived in Florence, was an astronomer, mathematician, doctor and mapmaker, a brilliant man of science who was the most respected authority of his day in many fields; his studies probably contributed more than a little to the successes of his friends, Brunelleschi and Donatello. Strangely, almost none of his written works survive.

Underneath Brunelleschi's dome, Toscanelli positioned the meridian plaque in the floor that was used for centuries to accurately measure the movements of the Sun. He was also known for his study of the periodicity of comets, including the one that would later be called Halley's.

Toscanelli came from a family of merchants involved in the spice trade. At a time when the traditional routes had been cut off by the Turks, finding an alternative must have always been on his mind. In 1474 Toscanelli created a map of the world, Though based largely on ancient literary sources and highly inaccurate, this map inspired the Age of Discovery by showing how it would be possible to reach Asia by sailing westwards. Columbus had it with him on his first voyage.

There's a mountain chain on the Moon named in Toscanelli's honour, as well as a lunar crater and an asteroid.

Text © Dana Facaros and Michael Pauls

Image by Biografia y Vidas