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1550 Munster Map of Asia

Tabula orientalis regionis, Asiae scilicet extremas complectens terras et regna. - Main View

1550 Munster Map of Asia


The first printed map of Asia.


Tabula orientalis regionis, Asiae scilicet extremas complectens terras et regna.
  1550 (undated)     11.25 x 14 in (28.575 x 35.56 cm)     1 : 40000000


This is a c. 1550 Sebastian Munster map of Asia, the first specific printed map of Asia and the earliest obtainable map of the continent. The map depicts the Asian continent from the Caspian Sea and the Persian Gulf to the Pacific Ocean and from the Arctic Ocean to the Indian Ocean. Though based heavily on Ptolemy's work, Munster also blends in information gleaned from recent discoveries made by Portuguese traders and adventurers, including Vasco da Gama. Both the Portuguese outposts of Goa and Calicut, on the Indian subcontinent, are labeled, and the depiction of India is improved, moving closer to a truly accurate depiction, although it is still undersized. The inclusion of Sri Lanka (Zaylon) as an island is also an improvement, though Munster misattributes the historical name for Sri Lanka, 'Taprobana' to Sumatra, which is also placed to the west of the Malay peninsula.

The Portuguese trading post of Malaqua in Southeast Asia is also present. Munster's depiction of Southeast Asia is recognizable, with a few missteps. Java is split in two, illustrated here as Java Major and Java Minor, and Munster keeps Marco Polo's assertion of a vast archipelago in the Pacific made up of 7,448 islands. Munster's depiction of China (Cathay) is also consistent with Marco Polo's writings. Another curious aspect of Munster's map is the continuation of the continent off the page, which is perhaps his way of not committing to whether or not Asia was connected to North America, even though his own map of North America illustrates it as a separate continent.

This map was first produced for inclusion in Münster's modernized Ptolemy in 1540, and was included in all editions of that work. Starting in 1544 it was included among the foretext maps in Münster's Cosmographia, appearing in each edition of that successful and ubiquitous tome until 1578. In various editions it is well represented in institutional collections. The map appears on the market with some regularity, so the collector should be selective in terms of condition.


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, 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 small 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 stepson, Heinrich Petri (Henricus Petrus), and his son Sebastian Henric Petri. Learn More...


Munster, S., Cosmographica, (Petri, Basel) 1550.    


Very good. Even overall toning. Latin text on verso.


OCLC 1002112950.