Skip to main content

Worldly Consumers

The Demand for Maps in Renaissance Italy

Though the practical value of maps during the sixteenth century is well documented, their personal and cultural importance has been relatively underexamined. In Worldly Consumers, Genevieve Carlton explores the growing availability of maps to private consumers during the Italian Renaissance and shows how map acquisition and display became central tools for constructing personal identity and impressing one’s peers.

Drawing on a variety of sixteenth-century sources, including household inventories, epigrams, dedications, catalogs, travel books, and advice manuals, Worldly Consumers studies how individuals displayed different maps in their homes as deliberate acts of self-fashioning. One citizen decorated with maps of Bruges, Holland, Flanders, and Amsterdam to remind visitors of his military prowess, for example, while another hung maps of cities where his ancestors fought or governed, in homage to his auspicious family history. Renaissance Italians turned domestic spaces into a microcosm of larger geographical places to craft cosmopolitan, erudite identities for themselves, creating a new class of consumers who drew cultural capital from maps of the time.

240 pages | 19 halftones, 4 line drawings | 6 x 9 | © 2015

Art: European Art

Geography: Cartography

History: European History


"In describing map trade and consumption during the Renaissance in Italy, historian Carlton  bases her study on household inventories from Venice and Florence, and on the inventory of the Florentine map shop of the prominent Francesco Rosselli, an early Italian cosmographer, cartographer, and engraver. The book illuminates an alternative view of people's use of maps during this time, regarding them more as consumer goods than objects of political power.  A specialized work for scholars and libraries collecting materials on the history of cartography. Recommended."


"Looking at how printers in Venice and Florence developed an enterprise in the manufacture and sale of woodcut and copperplate images, Carlton studies the galloping production, circulation and reception of sheet maps in the course of the cinquecento. Carlton argues that in looking at sheet maps solely from a political standpoint of power and control, viewers will miss the new sense of a mercantile cultural capital that took command in Italy and, by implication, a growing sense of social contradiction. In her view new maps were vital for economic development. They also stressed an ideology of identity in which individuals could imagine themselves related to the places they put on display in their homes, or else were cognizant of the character of greater worlds, the essence of which, depending on acquired wealth, may or may not have been beyond their reach. Clearly written and deftly illustrated, Worldly Consumers provides historical background and contextualization that will appeal to amateurs and specialists alike."

Imago Mundi

"Carlton makes a tightly focused and compelling argument. Her use of sources, particularly household inventories, convincingly demonstrates the popularity of maps across a wide strata of Renaissance society. Moreover, her comparative use of Venetian and Florentine inventories points toward the manner in which choices in printed maps became a matter of both local and personal taste. In analyzing the “demand side” of map culture, Carlton has given us a work that ties together questions about markets and consumption with larger cultural shifts associated with science, technology, and global expansion. In bringing these stories together, Carlton has written a book that is worthy of exceptionally wide interest."


"Exploring maps through the lens of domestic inventories of Venetian and Florentine households, Carlton reveals the “self-fashioning” of Italian households during the early modern period. I highly recommend this book to any library or reader interested in the early modern period, particularly in Italy or cartography. Carlton weaves a fascinating story."

Cartographic Perspectives

"Worldly Consumers provides new insight into the market for and reception of maps during a time when their popularity grew exponentially. By focusing on printed maps for what they reveal about a general category of consumers (as opposed to lavish items commissioned by wealthy and powerful individuals), Carlton’s study broadens our understanding of early modern collecting practices, adding to our knowledge of what maps meant outside the most elite circles."

Renaissance Quarterly

"Carlton's dedication to giving the demand side of the cartographic marketplace its due, and to making sense of maps as consumer items for domestic display, together make Worldly Consumers utterly worthwhile."

Canadian Journal of History

“Even as a handful of Europeans set out in the sixteenth century to explore the world, millions more stayed home and experienced it vicariously. Worldly Consumers is an ingenious study of how and why ordinary people began to buy maps at unprecedented rates. These Renaissance maps may have represented the globe and its territories in a new and ‘rational’ way, but, as Carlton shows, they remained loaded with meaning. Maps were more than tools of state policy; they also became objects of consumer delight and display. Her exacting study—based on a subtle reading of new evidence from Venice and Florence—shows how Europeans embraced these more accurate pictures of the world to fashion more motile identities for themselves. With Worldly Consumers, Carlton opens our eyes to the new world that materialized at home.”

Ken Alder, Northwestern University

 “Worldly Consumers is very significant contribution to the history of the transformation of cartography in early modern Europe. By studying household inventories drawn up at the time and books advising on the display of art, Carlton successfully illuminates the roles that maps played in the public self-fashioning of Venetian and Florentine householders. One of the great strengths of the book is Carlton’s handling of the religious meanings in cartography throughout her entire period: she presents the importance of maps for showing creation, unveiling the structure of the cosmos, and provoking awe and wonder in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries better than any previous scholar.” 

Victoria Morse, Carleton College

Worldly Consumers concentrates on Venice and Florence, the major centers for the production and distribution of maps and where the strongest documentary evidence survives. Carlton’s strength is her detailed and accurate examination of her fascinating primary sources—the inventories of Venetian and Florentine houses, which she uses to document the existence of maps in the domestic setting as well as, whenever possible, their location and display within the house. Through a careful reading of these inventories and the computation of the information derived from them, Carlton is able to examine in detail how many households displayed maps, what these maps roughly represented, where they were displayed, and how these elements contributed to identity construction. Worldly Consumers is a solid contribution to the broader understanding of Renaissance culture, successfully establishing that the consumption of maps was part and parcel of the demand for goods in Renaissance Italy and how maps participated in the self-fashioning of their owners.”

Francesca Fiorani, University of Virginia

Be the first to know

Get the latest updates on new releases, special offers, and media highlights when you subscribe to our email lists!

Sign up here for updates about the Press