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Münster Woodcut View of Islands, Ships and Monsters

[Untitled Woodcut]. - Main View

Münster Woodcut View of Islands, Ships and Monsters


An Evocative Image of the Age of Discovery.


[Untitled Woodcut].
  1552 (undated)     7 x 6 in (17.78 x 15.24 cm)


This is a fascinating and evocative woodcut image of islands, ships and sea monsters, illustrating a text describing islands in general. It appeared in Sebastian Münster's Cosmographia beginning in 1550, and appears here in an early French text edition of the work.
The Image
Here depicted is an archipelago, surrounded with turbulent seas. Some of the islands appear to be forbiddingly rocky, while others are peppered with trees and hills, some graced with European-styled walled cities. Several sea monsters prowl the archipelago, one resembling a giant sea-hog, and a sea serpent menacing a sailing ship, which fires its cannon to drive the monster away. Two small sailboats, and another great sailing ship also sail between the islands. From one of the islands, a robed figure approaches the shore, as if to greet one of the sailing craft. There is nothing in the image to indicate any specific location, and none of the details in the image correspond directly to any of the details in the accompanying text. So on its own, it would be incorrect to describe this as a literal representation of any specific place. Rather, it is an imaginative representation of sea voyages, the dangers associated with them, and the wonders that might be encountered.
The Text
In the editions of Cosmographia in which this image appeared, it appeared twice: here, accompanying the text describing islands in general, defining the concept and providing a wide variety of examples (including Rhodes, Sicily, and Cyprus.) The other appearance of this illustration attended the opening of the chapter pertaining to the New World. That text described Columbus' courting of the King and Queen of Spain, and the start of his 1492 voyage - first from Cadiz to the Canary Islands, thence crossing the Atlantic to find the Island of St. John (Puerto Rico) and Hispaniola. And so while the image attending this text is primarily an imaginary work, it was nevertheless employed to illustrate sea voyages amongst the world's islands, and intended to evoke the wonder associated with those places.
Publication History and Census
This woodcut was executed by an anonymous formschneider for inclusion in the 1550 editions of Münster's Cosmographia and would remain in the work in every edition up to 1628. The book’s many editions are well represented in institutional collections. While this image is cataloged separately only once in OCLC, it appears on the market from time to time.


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. More by this mapmaker...

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 Münster - one of Adam's collaborators. Sebastian contracted his stepson, 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...


Munster, Sebastian, Cosmographie Universelle, (Basel: Petri) 1552.    


Good. Few areas of faint soiling. Bottom text block cropped with bottom margin extended, no impact to image. Else very good.


OCLC 990347056 (misdated 1559).