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1576 Heinrich Petri Ptolemaic Map of Africa

Untitled Map of Africa - Main View

1576 Heinrich Petri Ptolemaic Map of Africa


16th Century Woodcut Map of Africa as Ancient Rome Knew It



Untitled Map of Africa
  1576 (undated)     5.25 x 6 in (13.335 x 15.24 cm)


An attractively-executed map 16th-century woodcut map of Africa. The most general of the Ptolemaic maps of Africa, extending far enough south to fully show Ptolemy’s mythical source of the Nile River in the ‘Mountains of the Moon.’ The continent extends further still, expanding to east and west as it exits the map: Ptolemy’s conception of the world was that the Indian Ocean was an inland sea, and that Africa’s landmass continued to expand both eastward and westward to connect to China. As this 16th century woodcut was a historical work depicting 2nd century geographical knowledge, this error has been retained.

It was printed in 1576 by Heinrich Petri to illustrate his edition of Pomponius Mela’s De orbis situ, libri III and Iulius Solinus’ Polyhistor, two seminal . As neither Mela (first century CE) nor Solinus (third century CE) initially included maps in their works, Petri had to rely on another ancient source of maps for the book: Claudius Ptolemy (fl. 83-161 CE,) whose treatise on geography laid the foundation for all modern cartography, and whose work had already been reproduced in many editions in the 16th century, some published by Petri himself. Ptolemy’s general map of Africa would have been the natural choice for illustrating the situation of the Persian Gulf (the section heading at the top of the page, Sinus Arabicus, suggests that this was the purpose of the map in this context.)


Heinrich Petri (1508 - 1579) and his son Sebastian Henric Petri (1545 – 1627) were printers based in Basel, Switzerland. Heinrich was the son of the printer Adam Petri and Anna Selber. After Adam died in 1527, Anna married the humanist and geographer Sebastian Munster - one of Adam's collaborators. Sebastian contracted his son-in-law, Henricus Petri (Petrus), to print editions of his wildly popular Cosmographia. Later Petri, brought his son, Sebastian Henric Petri, into the family business. Their firm was known as the Officina Henricpetrina. In addition to the Cosmographia, they also published a number of other seminal works including the 1566 second edition of Nicolaus Copernicus's De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium and Georg Joachim Rheticus's Narratio. Learn More...

Claudius Ptolemy (83 - 161 AD) is considered to be the father of cartography. A native of Alexandria living at the height of the Roman Empire, Ptolemy was renowned as a student of Astronomy and Geography. His work as an astronomer, as published in his Almagest, held considerable influence over western thought until Isaac Newton. His cartographic influence remains to this day. Ptolemy was the first to introduce projection techniques and to publish an atlas, the Geographiae. Ptolemy based his atlas on the "Geographiae" of Strabo, the cartographic materials assembled by Marinus of Tyre, and contemporary accounts provided by the many traders and navigators passing through Alexandria. Ptolemy's Geographiae was a ground breaking achievement far in advance of any known pre-existent cartography, however, it was not without flaws. His other great error involved his use of the Cape Verde Islands as a Prime Meridian, thus wildly over estimating distances east of this point, and conversely underestimating the distances west. The ultimate result of this error was Columbus's fateful expedition to India in 1492. In any case, though the text of Ptolemy's Geographiae did survive, the maps that supposedly accompanied it did not. The earliest known Ptolemaic maps are in manuscript format and date to approximately 1300. Most of Ptolemaic maps that have come down to us today are based upon the manuscript editions produced in the mid 15th century by Donnus Nicolaus Germanus, who provided the basis for both the 1477 Bologna and the 1482-6 Ulm Ptolemies. Even after printed versions became broadly available, later authorities - Waldseemuller in 1513, Mercator in 1578 - would consult early manuscript Ptolemies in revising new editions of the work. Learn More...


Petri, H. [De chorographia] Pomponii Melæ De orbis situ, libri III. Et C. Iulii Solini, Polyhistor: quorum ille descriptionem singularum orbis terreni partium atque regionum: Hic uero præter eadem, quæ ubiq[ue] memorabilia sint loca, animantia, ... compendiose enarrat. Authores ut politissimi, ita geographiæ studiosis utilissimi, in quorum gratiam Mela scholiis, uterq[ue] uerò tabulis elegantibus illustratus est, præfixo indice sufficienti    


Very good. Lightly toned. Blank verso.


JCB 13178.