Fra Mauro

Fra Mauro, O.S.B. Cam., (c.1400-1464) was an Italian cartographer who lived in the Republic of Venice. He created the most detailed and accurate map of the world up until that time, the Fra Mauro map.

Mauro was a monk of the Camaldolese Monastery of St. Michael, located on the island of Murano in the Venetian Lagoon. It was there that he maintained a cartography workshop. He also was employed by some very powerful men like Prince Henry the Navigator.


Fra Mauro was born before or around the year 1400. In his youth, Mauro had traveled extensively as a merchant and a soldier. He was familiar with the Middle East. He is recorded in the records of the Monastery of St. Michael from 1409. As a lay member of the monastery, Mauro was employed as mapmaker. In the records of the monastery his main job was recorded as collecting the monastery's rents, but from the 1450s he is also mentioned as the creator of a series of world maps. Although he was no longer free to travel, due to his religious status, he would frequently consult with merchants of the city upon their return from overseas voyages. By 1450 he composed a great mappa mundi - a world map - with surprising accuracy, including extensive written comments reflecting the geographic knowledge of his time. The map is known today as the "Fra Mauro map".

The Fra Mauro world map

The Fra Mauro world map, or mappa mundi, was a major cartographical work that compiled much of the geographical knowledge of the time. The map covers over five square meters. The map is extremely detailed and contains many thousands of texts and illustrations. The world map took several years to complete and was the most detailed and accurate world map that had been produced up until that time.

Fra Mauro created the map under a commission by King Afonso V of Portugal. Andrea Bianco, a sailor-cartographer, is recorded as having collaborated with Fra Mauro in creating the map, as payments made to him between 1448 and 1459 testify. The map was completed on 24 April 1459, and sent to Portugal, but that copy didn't survive. Along with the map was a letter from the Doge of Venice. It was intended for Prince Henry the Navigator, Afonso V's uncle. It encouraged the prince to continue funding exploratory journeys. Fra Mauro died the following year, while he was making a copy of the map for the Signoria of Venice. The copy was completed by Andrea Bianco. A commemorative medal of the period struck in honor of his cartographic work describes Fra Mauro as "chosmographus incomparabilis".

Other works

Two copies of maps by Fra Mauro are known to survive. One is a portolan chart in the Vatican Library, (Codice Borgiano V) published by Roberto Almagià in 1944.[1] The other was recognized by Antonio Ratti as a copy signed by Giorgio Callapoda at Candia and dated 1541, of a lost chart by Fra Mauro, sold at auction in Milan in 1984[2] and now in a private collection, probably in France.[3]


The crater Fra Mauro and associated Fra Mauro formation of the Moon are named after him. The Apollo 13 lunar mission was intended to explore the Fra Mauro formation, but – due to the explosion aboard the spacecraft – Apollo 13's crew had to return to Earth without landing on the Moon. The formation was instead explored by astronauts Alan Shepard and Edgar Mitchell of the Apollo 14 mission in February 1971.


  1. Almagià, discussing the copy of another map by Fra Mauro, in the Vatican Library: Roberto Almagià, Monumenta cartographica vaticana, (Rome 1944) I:32–40; Heinrich Winter, "The Fra Mauro Portolan Chart in the Vatican" Imago Mundi 16 (1962), pp. 17–28.
  2. Galleria Salomon Agustoni Agrati, 24 October 1984, 40,000,000 lire
  3. Antonio Ratti, " A Lost Map of Fra Mauro Found in a Sixteenth Century Copy" Imago Mundi 40 (1988), pp. 77–85.
  • Novel A Mapmaker's Dream. The meditations of Fra Mauro, cartographer to the Court of Venice. by James Cowan. Shambala publications USA.
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