Munster’s Monsters


Sebastian Munster.  “Meerwunder und Seltzame Their…”  [Sea Wonders and Strange Animals as they are in the Western Countries, as they are found on land and sea.”  From Cosmographia.  Basle: [1544].  10 1/4 x 13 5/8.  Woodcut.  Very good condition.  German text on verso.


A delightful compendium of Sea and Land Monsters as known in the sixteenth century.”  This came from Sebastian Munster’s Cosmographia, a compilation of information on the world which included an important series of woodcut maps and prints.  Munster, a Swiss theologian, mathematician and cosmographer, was one of the greatest geographers in the era before “modern” cartography; his output was a most influential cause of the spread of geographic knowledge from the middle years of the sixteenth century.  His works have aptly been described as Renaissance knowledge through a Medieval medium.  Here Munster shows all the known monsters of the world, including those of the oceans and of the ‘unknown’ lands beyond the edge of civilization.  While most intellectuals of the late sixteenth century treated the existence of these monsters with skepticism, many still believed in their existence and the issue was certainly not completely decided.  As Munster’s Cosmographia was a description of the whole world, this print of monsters was needed to make the work complete.  Across the top of the image are the land creatures, including a gluttonous bear.  Below are the “Sea Wonders.”  We are most fortunate that Munster included the print, for it offers us a unique glimpse of Renaissance attitudes towards those ‘unknown parts’ of their world.