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1552 Munster Map of Africa

Africa XXV. Nova Tabula. - Main View

1552 Munster Map of Africa


Earliest Acquirable Printed Map of the African Continent.



Africa XXV. Nova Tabula.
  1552 (undated)     11.5 x 14.5 in (29.21 x 36.83 cm)     1 : 30000000


This is the distinctive 1552 Geographia edition of Sebastian Münster's 1540 map of Africa, the earliest map of the continent available to the collector. For more than thirty years during the age of discovery, this map would be the predominant representation of Africa for the European reader. This issue is the only edition to include the coordinate bars on the margin, which were added to the final 1552 edition of Geographia but were not re-utilized in subsequent Cosmographia editions.
The Map
Within its generally-recognizable depiction of the shape of the continent, it presents an amalgam of sources. Most of the general detail of North Africa is derived from Ptolemaic geography, as is the depiction of the Nile with its sources in the lakes of the Mountains of the Moon (Ptolemy's assumptions about the sources of that river would remain unchallenged on maps of Africa until the end of the 17th century.) Many place names in North Africa were likely drawn from Leo Africanus' 1526 Descrittione dell 'Africa, though many - for example, Garamantes - are drawn from classical historians such as Herodotus. Münster draws on Portuguese sources for west Africa (Cadamosto's 15th century journeys there would reveal the Cape Verde Islands, which appear here.). Numerous kingdoms are noted throughout the continent and are marked by a crown and scepter. Some of these include the Arab kingdoms of Melinde and Quiola, Meroë, where the Nubian kings are said to be buried, and Hamarichthe capital of the kingdom of the mythical Christian king Prester John.
A Visually Compelling Map
Of the early maps of Africa, Münster's is the most entertaining, with its decorative elements such as parrots, an elephant, and a giant Cyclops. The grand ship shown sailing near the Cape of Good Hope does more than decorate: it reinforces the news that those waters were navigable, a reality not reflected in Ptolemy's mapping of the world until scholars began revising the 2nd century geographers' work at the end of the 15th century. By the time atlases such as Ortelius' began entering publication, Münster's groundbreaking map would be obsolete. One result of this is that despite its broad reach, the map was not copied by other mapmakers, making the map visually unique - and an utterly essential map for the collector of maps of the discovery period in general, and Africa in particular.
Publication History and Census
This map was introduced in the first 1540 edition of Munster's Geographia. It remained in each edition of that work, of which the 1552 was the last. The map, without the distinctive coordinate bars, would be included in all further editions of Munster's Cosmographia until 1578, after which point the double-page maps of the long-lived work were replaced and updated. While editions of Cosmographia are well represented in institutional collections, perhaps twenty are of this 1552 edition. The separate map appears frequently in OCLC, although only one example of this 1552 state appears there, at Princeton University.


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