The Lost Map of Matteo de' Pasti: Cartography, Diplomacy, and Espionage in the Renaissance Adriatic

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The sculptor Matteo de' Pasti left Rimini in 1461 bound for Ottoman Sultan Mehmed ii's court at Constantinople with gifts from Sigismondo Malatesta. When his ship stopped in Crete, Matteo was detained by the island's Venetian authorities on charges of espionage. Contemporaries report that he carried with him a map, now lost, but assumed to be a strategically valuable one of the Adriatic. Discussions of Matteo's mission claim that it attempted to supply the sultan with essential intelligence for an invasion of Italy. Yet, this spy story finds little confirmation in historical sources. Indeed, our knowledge of the map's very existence derives from the reports of Sigismondo's enemies. I examine this prominent embassy as a means to reconsider attitudes toward the utility of maps in the scholarly imagination and the role of art and artists in early modern diplomacy. Revisiting documentary evidence and the claims scholars have grounded therein, I explore how we have told the tale of this journey in ways that conform to our own shifting expectations, sometimes at the expense of fidelity to the sources at hand. Overwhelming focus on the absent map has obscured both Matteo's role as envoy and the distinctive place of evidently skillful and delightful visual culture in this attempted exchange.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)19-38
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Early Modern History
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2016



  • artist ambassador
  • Cartography
  • diplomatic gifts
  • Matteo de' Pasti
  • Mehmed II
  • Ottoman-Italian relations
  • Sigismondo Malatesta

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History

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