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1598 Munster Map of Sea Monsters and Fantastical Beasts

Meerwunder und seltzame Their/ wie die in den Mitnachtigen Landern im Meer. - Main View

1598 Munster Map of Sea Monsters and Fantastical Beasts


Bestiary of fantastical northern monsters.



Meerwunder und seltzame Their/ wie die in den Mitnachtigen Landern im Meer.
  1598 (undated)     12 x 14.5 in (30.48 x 36.83 cm)


Often euphemistically referred to as Munster's Monsters, this is Sebastian Munster's bestiary of sea serpents and other terrifying monsters, some fictional, some real, that was included in Munster's Cosmographia, which for more than half a century provided the European literate layperson their best source of information about the world away from their homes. Most of the beasts here are derived from a 1539 map of Scandinavia drawn by Olaus Magnus. Although Munster's Monsters may initially seem fabulous and scary, many are based upon or outright depictions of the factual creatures that Scandinavian sailors and whalemen actually encountered. This woodcut was composed by the Swiss artist Hans Rudolf Manuel Deutsch, who produced many of Munster's woodcuts. The actual Formschneider is unknown beyond his initials, M-F, which appear along with 'Deutsch's HR-MD.'

Among the more recognizable beasts are various forms of whales with obvious blowholes, at least two enormous lobsters, a sea serpent (probably an oarfish), the whale fish (white fish at center, an Orca), and something that might very well be a walrus. Of course, there are fictional sea monsters too, including a pig faced sea beast, apparently seen by sailors in 1537, and the Sea Buffalo, something that looks like a cross between a bull and a fish.

Although much is made of Munster's sea creatures, it should be noted that his map also illustrates land based fauna, most of which are far more realistic. These include reindeer, beavers, sables, bears, a wolverine, snakes, and what might be some sort of large cat. In the lower left, there is a tree populated by 'duckbirds,' a curious kind of avian that Munster claims 'grows on trees' but which, in his lifetime, had not been seen for some 400 years.

Although not properly a map, Munster included this catalog of beasts in his Cosmographia to illustrate the natural world. Today we might look at a book like the Cosmographia and consider it an atlas for its many maps, but the work itself is more accurately an attempt to describe, as the name suggests, the entire cosmos. It included descriptions of flora, fauna, geological and astronomical observations, historical notes, and cultural (some might even say anthropological) commentary.
Publication History and Census
Munster's Cosmographia was a popular work, and as many as fifty thousand were printed. While many of these did not survive, individual maps do appear on the market from time to time. The separate woodcut is neglected in institutional collections, although the full work is well represented in institutional collections. The typography of this specific example is consistent with the 1598 example digitized by the Bibliothèque Nationale de France.


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