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1538 Münster Map of Asia, Africa and the Pacific Northwest

[Africa/ Asia Maior/ Terra incognita] - Main View

1538 Münster Map of Asia, Africa and the Pacific Northwest


The first printed map of the Pacific Northwest.



[Africa/ Asia Maior/ Terra incognita]
  1538 (undated)     9.75 x 13 in (24.765 x 33.02 cm)


This is a rare 1538 map of Asia, executed by Sebastian Münster for inclusion in his edition of Solinus' Polyhistor. It predates by two years the map of Asia in Münster's 1540Geographia. Although it is not entirely a modern work, it is the earliest printed map focusing on the continent of Asia. It also contains the first printed representation of the Pacific Northwest, more than thirty years prior to the Ortelius map generally granted that laurel.
A Beautiful Woodcut
The map is boldly and legibly presented, but in the waters south of the Indian Ocean the artist has outdone himself. The restrained hachure along the coastline gives way to roiling waves suggestive of wind-whipped seas, and two superbly realized sailing ships are menaced by sea monsters, one of them a merman gripping the gunwales. The detail of these - including crewmen desperately hanging in the rigging - is remarkable. It is tempting to compare the work on this map to the 1532 Münster/ Grynaeus (see below) whose decorative work is credited to Hans Holbein the Younger - but there is no definitive indication of the artist here.
The Sources
The general outline of the map is derived from the 1502 Cantino Planisphere, a Portuguese portolan secreted from Lisbon and then made available to Italian and German scholars. It was this map that informed much of Waldseemüller's mapmaking (in particular his 1507 world map) and it was largely Waldseemüller who informed Münster's early work. Münster's 1532 world map accompanying Simon Grynaeus' Novus Orbis Regionum was itself a restatement of Waldseemüller, perhaps via the intermediary of Apian's 1520 world map. The outline of the present map closely resembles that of the corresponding area on the 1532 Münster / Grynaeus. (Similarities in the typography of these two maps should dispel any questions of their deriving from different mapmakers.)
The Dragon's Tail
Late 15th and early 16th century geography in many areas radically moved beyond Ptolemaic assumptions, but in other areas made more gradual shifts. One of the notable features of early world maps based on Ptolemy, is that the Indian Ocean was shown to be an inland sea, with the southern part of Africa shown continuing eastward to meet, beyond the Malay peninsula, with China. The body of water between the Malay Peninsula and this encircling landmass Ptolemy termed the Sinus Magnus (the Great Bay.) By the time the Portuguese makers of the Cantino Planisphere were at work, they well understood that such a 'land bridge' between Africa and China did not exist (Portuguese navigation had proven this point) but there was as yet no exploratory evidence to indicate what precisely was beyond the legendary Sinus Magnus. The solution offered on the Cantino, and by Henry Martellus in his 1490 map, was to truncate the 'land bridge' at a point some distance south of India-beyond-the-Ganges. What remained, then, of the land mass once thought to enclose the Indian Ocean would be a massive, inward-curving peninsula - sometimes referred to as the Dragon’s Tail. (This writer prefers to term it 'Ptolemy's Appendix.') This feature graces the Münster/ Grynaeus of 1532, and it is prominent on the present map.
Marco Polo and the Far East
While the general framework of the interior part of the continent is derived from Ptolemy, the place names occupying points beyond the Imaus Mountains and the Ganges derive from Marco Polo's letters - not only Cathay, but the southern realms of Champa (Ciamba here.) Japan does not appear here: another sign of this map's lineage with the Münster / Grynaeus, in which Marco Polo's Zipangri appears quite close to North America, and far from the Chinese coast.
The northeastern corner of this map is occupied by a spot of land, decorated with hills and trees and dubbed Terra Incognita. This does not appear on the 1532 map, or indeed on any other until Ortelius' 1570 map of Tartaria. In the text preceding the present map, Münster made the astonishing claim of this pictured coast that 'In our days it has been explored by men', despite no report of any such exploration having survived to our era.
Africa and the Indian Ocean
A significant portion of the African continent appears here - a necessity, for illustrating the navigability of the Indian Ocean (after all, the Dragon's Tail was the appendix left over from the land bridge thought to connect Africa and China; if the Dragon's Tail illustrated the eastern extent of the land bridge, the Cape of Good Hope showed its western extreme. Madagascar, is also shown and named, though far from the mainland. The interior topography shows Ptolemy's depiction of the River Nile as presented on the 1532 map. Although the Indian Peninsula is all but omitted, the Indus and Ganges are clearly shown and labeled. The island of Taprobana, although placed in the general vicinity of Sri Lanka, is here explicitly identified as Sumatra. The Malay Peninsula appears, named Aurea Chesonesus.
In Support of Solinus
Barring those above-mentioned, modern geographical features, portions of the map west of the Sinus Magnus show physical features and their names in accord with those of Ptolemy. The names of nations, and people, however, are consistent with those appearing in Solinus' text - a sensible choice, indicating that with this map Münster was applying his best available topography specifically in order to illustrate and clarify the work in which the map was to appear.
Publication History and Census
This map was first issued in the 1538 edition of Solinus' Polyhistor, which was published by Petri but for which Münster also supplied the text and presumably the transcription of the 3rd century work. A 1543 edition was also printed including this map: the two editions are easily distinguished by the presence of the catch-letters 't 4' in the lower right-hand corner of the 1538. About thirty examples of this edition of Polyhistor are catalogued in institutional collections, with some 23 of the 1543 edition. We see no separate, physical examples of this map catalogued in OCLC.


Sebastian Münster (January 20, 1488 - May 26, 1552), was a German cartographer, cosmographer, Hebrew scholar and humanist. He was born at Ingelheim near Mainz, the son of Andreas Munster. He completed his studies at the Eberhard-Karls-Universität Tübingen in 1518, after which he was appointed to the University of Basel in 1527. As Professor of Hebrew, he edited the Hebrew Bible, accompanied by a Latin translation. In 1540 he published a Latin edition of Ptolemy's Geographia, which presented the ancient cartographer's 2nd century geographical data supplemented systematically with maps of the modern world. This was followed by what can be considered his principal work, the Cosmographia. First issued in 1544, this was the earliest German description of the modern world. It would become the go-to book for any literate layperson who wished to know about anywhere that was further than a day's journey from home. In preparation for his work on Cosmographia, Münster reached out to humanists around Europe and especially within the Holy Roman Empire, enlisting colleagues to provide him with up-to-date maps and views of their countries and cities, with the result that the book contains a disproportionate number of maps providing the first modern depictions of the areas they depict. Münster, as a religious man, was not producing a travel guide. Just as his work in ancient languages was intended to provide his students with as direct a connection as possible to scriptural revelation, his object in producing Cosmographia was to provide the reader with a description of all of creation: a further means of gaining revelation. The book, unsurprisingly, proved popular and was reissued in numerous editions and languages including Latin, French, Italian, English, and Czech. The last German edition was published in 1628, long after Münster's death of the plague in 1552. Cosmographia was one of the most successful and popular books of the 16th century, passing through 24 editions between 1544 and 1628. This success was due in part to its fascinating woodcuts (some by Hans Holbein the Younger, Urs Graf, Hans Rudolph Manuel Deutsch, and David Kandel). Münster's work was highly influential in reviving classical geography in 16th century Europe, and providing the intellectual foundations for the production of later compilations of cartographic work, such as Ortelius' Theatrum Orbis Terrarum Münster's output includes a large format 1536 map of Europe; the 1532 Grynaeus map of the world is also attributed to him. His non-geographical output includes Dictionarium trilingue in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, and his 1537 Hebrew Gospel of Matthew. Most of Munster's work was published by his son-in-Law, Heinrich Petri (Henricus Petrus), and his son Sebastian Henric Petri. Learn More...

Gaius Julius Solinus (c. 290 - 350) was a Latin grammarian and compiler. His De mirabilibus mundi (The Wonders of the World) survived, recopied well into the 16th century as a valuable description of the ancient world. It touches on social, religious and natural history as understood at the time, drawing heavily from both Pliny's Natural History and Pomponius Mela's Geography. As such, rather than being a mathematical geography in the school of Ptolemy, Solinus' work concerns more the description of places than their physical location. There is considerable debate regarding exactly when Solinus was alive, with scholars putting forth dates nearly up to 100 years apart. I this we are following the scholarship of Fernàndez Nieto, who offers dates from (290 - 350). Some scholars offer a specific death date of January 2, 400, which while possible is unconfirmed. Learn More...

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...


Solinus, Gaius Julius / Münster, Sebastian Polyhistor (Basel: Petri, H.), 1538.    


Excellent condition. Filled marginal wormholes not affecting printed image.


OCLC 222978825. Suarez, Thomas, Early mapping of Southeast Asia, (Hong Kong: Periplus) page 95, fig. 49.