How did your collection start?
It was my father’s fault. At the end of my fourth year in high school I happened to get quite a good report. To reward me, he made me a present of a map of northern Italy from 1648. That was the first — and for a while, the only one. Then when I started travelling around England — which has always been a goldmine for antique maps — I began gradually to add to the collection. Or rather, I began to have a collection.
What’s the focus of the collection?
Venice. They’re not all maps of the city itself, but Venice has to be in there somewhere. So some are maps of Italy, some of what was once the Dominio Veneto — the landward part of the Venetian Republic — and then around half are maps of Venice proper. And they go up to the end of the 19th century, apart from one 20th-century map of the lagoon. Venice was one of the most mapped cities in the world throughout the early modern period. And it can boast one of the great marvels of Renaissance cartography: Jacopo de’ Barbari’s bird’s-eye view of the city from 1500. He went from bell tower to bell tower in order to draw the city, and it’s fascinating to see what’s missing — like the Salute church — but also how much of what we see hasn’t changed.
Is a map’s rarity value important for you?
Not hugely. There has to be something that intrigues me. It might even be the paper: maps are tactile things, especially those that predate the 19th century. I have to confess, though, that sometimes other factors have played a part. I like to hang maps on the walls rather than hiding them in drawers, and occasional questions of symmetry or even size have played a part in my choice of what to buy — when I had a hole on the wall to fill!
Has your passion for collecting changed over the years?
I slowed down a little when I’d filled up all the available wall space in both my houses. But then I found myself being drawn to other kinds of maps — in books for example. And I also managed to acquire an object I love, which is an extension of my passion for maps: a rare vase, a kind of stylised earthly globe, designed by Giò Ponti for Richard Ginori in 1929.
Nicolò Favaretto Rubelli likes the way maps ‘unite art and technique’; here we see a selection at his home
Where do you find the maps in your collection?
Not on the internet. I like to be able to see them, touch them. And I like stumbling upon hidden shops, especially when I’m abroad, rather than visiting dealers and specialists close to home, who always tend to have the same stock. Another good thing about being a collector is that you become a very easy person to buy presents for!
Are there any finds you’re particularly proud of ?
Once in Oxford I came across a map of northern Italy that had only just come in, which was dedicated to Charles II and had these stylised, cartoon-like drawings of Venice and other cities. It’s no artistic masterpiece, but that’s kind of why I like it; and it was a bargain, too. Another great discovery I made, at a Berlin book fair, was an edition of Vitruvius’s Ten Books of Architecture, edited in the second half of the 16th century by the Venetian writer Daniele Barbaro, with plates reproducing several of Andrea Palladio’s buildings in Venice and the Veneto and the addition — out of context, but marvellous — of quite a rare aerial view of the city.
What is it about maps that attracts you?
The way they unite art and technique. I’m an engineer by training, so when I look at a view of Venice I also appreciate its technical bravura. Yet at the same time, creativity always plays a role. If you look at certain German maps of Venice, they’ve given all the bell towers pointed spires. They’ve reinterpreted the city according to their own canons of beauty.
Is there a map you dream of finding in some dusty attic or junk shop?
Jacopo de’ Barbari’s 1500 map of Venice. There are only about a dozen known copies. It was printed in six sections, and I often fantasise about coming across one of them in a flea market somewhere.
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