Munster World 1559


Sebastian Munster.  “Typus Orbis Universalis.”  From Cosmographia Universalis.  Basel: Heinrich Petri, 1559.  10 1/4 x 15.  Woodcut by David Kandel.  Expert strengthening of side margins.  Else, very good condition.  Shirley: 92.


An original, antique world map from the mid-sixteenth century.  The sixteenth century was a time of phenomenally rapid expansion of European man’s knowledge of the earth, in the New World, Africa and Asia.  Munster’s world map was issued in 1540 and this is an example of the second version which appeared first in 1550, identifiable by the inclusion of the engraver’s (David Kandel) initials in the lower left.  This is very similar to the first version, though the east and west winds do not protrude into the map image as on the earlier map.  Munster’s map is a wonderful statement of the state of cartographic knowledge in the middle of the sixteenth century.  The contrast between this map and the Ptolemaic world map issued by Munster at the same time is profound.  The most obvious difference if the inclusion of the New World, complete with the False Sea of Verrazano which gave expression to the desire for a westward route to the Orient.  All across the map are reflections of the recent voyages of discovery.  Africa, while retaining Ptolemy’s depiction of the source of the Nile in the Mountains of the Moon, is shown with an approximately accurate shape, the land bridge to Asia having disappeared.  The outline of Asia is also much improved, with India and Ceylon taking on more of their true proportions, and there being some indication of the many islands off southeast Asia.  Though with one face turned towards the future, this map also faces the past, with its fantastic border showing the twelve winds, and numerous sea-monsters frolicking in the seas.  A wonderful Renaissance artifact conveyed through a medieval medium.