Fernão Vaz Dourado

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Nautical chart of the 1571 atlas, depicting the northwestern coast of Africa (Portuguese National Archives of Torre do Tombo, Lisbon). The text in the border reads: On this sheet is drawn all the coast of Africa and Guinea up to South Tomé Island

Fernão Vaz Dourado (Goa-India c. 1520 - c. 1580) was a Portuguese cartographer of the sixteenth century, belonging to the third period of the old Portuguese nautical cartography, which is characterised by the abandonment of Ptolemaic influence in the representation of the Orient and introduction of better accuracy in the depiction of lands and continents. Little is known about this historical figure.

The known works of Dourado are of an extraordinary quality and beauty. He is considered as one of the best cartographers of the time. Most of his manuscript charts are of relatively large scale and are included in nautical atlases. The following six atlas from the period 1568-1580 are known:

  • 1568 - 20 manuscript sheets on parchment, dedicated to D. Luiz de Ataíde (Biblioteca Nacional, Madrid)
  • 1570 - 20 manuscript sheets on parchment (Huntington Library, San Marino, USA)
  • 1571 - 20 manuscript sheets on parchment, two were stolen in the nineteenth century (Torre do Tombo, Lisbon)
  • c. 1576 - 20 manuscript sheets on parchment (Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal, Lisbon)
  • 1575 - 21 manuscript sheets on parchment (British Museum, London)
  • 1580 - 20 manuscript sheets on parchment (Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal, Lisbon)

The 1568 atlas contains the first large-scale charts of Ceilão (Sri Lanka) and Japan, later copied by many other cartographers.

His chart of the northwestern coast of Africa, displayed above is executed using the so-called "plane chart model", where observed latitudes andmagneti directions were plotted directly into the plane, with a constant scale, as if the Earth were flat. Until the adoption of the Mercator projection charting method, this was the most advanced charting method in Europe.


  • Fialho, João Ramalho (2007) – Navegações Portuguesas: Fernão Vaz Dourado.
  • Cortesão A. and Mota, Teixeira da (1987)– Portugallae Monumenta Cartographica. Imprensa Nacional – Casa da Moeda, Lisboa.