We’re familiar with Leonardo da Vinci’s sculptural sketches and engineering diagrams, but he was an innovative cartographer too.
How Leonardo da Vinci made a “satellite” map in 1502
It was a feat of technological and symbolic imagination. And it was pretty accurate, too.
This old map: Da Vinci’s plan of Imola, 1502
A map made by da Vinci would be interesting even if he hadn’t applied his fabled genius to the task. But here, he absolutely did. Besides this being a beautiful map, with its delicate colors and washes, it achieves a technical precision few others did at the time.
Most Renaissance maps are known for their fanciful inclusion of dragons, castles, and undulating mountainsides, and most of them show buildings in elevation, or the “oblique perspective.” But da Vinci’s sought to capture the proportions and relationships between land features more accurately, and he developed new technologies to do so. To make this map of Imola, he may have used the special hodometer and magnetic compass he’d already invented (he’d been fascinated by maps and optics for years). With careful measurements in hand, he drew every “street, plot of land, church, colonnade, gate and square, the whole encompassed by the moat,” writes the Renaissance historian Paul Strathern.
Da Vinci centered the plan in a circle with four crossing lines, representing the points on a compass. And he showed the city ichnographically, “as if viewed from an infinite number of viewpoints,” perhaps inspired by his study of avian flight. It is the earliest such map in existence.