This item has been sold, but you can enter your email address to be notified if another example becomes available, or purchase a digital scan.

1558 Munster Map of Switzerland and the Source of the Rhine

Moderna Discrizzion Della Helvezia. - Main View

1558 Munster Map of Switzerland and the Source of the Rhine


One of the Earliest Modern Maps of Switzerland



Moderna Discrizzion Della Helvezia.
  1558 (undated)     10.75 x 13.5 in (27.305 x 34.29 cm)     1 : 768000


This is a bold, sharp example of Sebastian Munster's 1544 map of Switzerland, from an Italian edition of Munster's Cosmographia Universalis.. Among the many cities and towns shown are Berne, Basel, Konstans, Lucerne, and Friburg. Of the modern maps included in Munster's grand opus, this was one of those most informed by the editor's direct experience: The majority of Munster's life and work were spent living in Basel, and he surveyed the area personally. In fact, this map and the others of the Rhineland are, aside from his modern World map, the only of Munster's double-page maps to be substantialy revised during his lifetime. Drawing on his surveys of 1542, Munster produced this map to replace the one appearing in the pre-Cosmographia editions of Munster's Ptolemy. The new map improved both on the map's geographical detail and on its artistic quality. Switzerland's mountains, forests, lakes, rivers and cities are shown pictorially in the evocative woodcut. As the mountains grow higher and the population more sparse in the southern part of the map, Munster has added goats, a bear, and a hunter with a bow.
'Helvetia Prima Rheni'
Munster's Switzerland map was the first of three of his maps covering the full length of the River Rhine. In order to more legibly carry the reader along the river's length, this and the other two Rhine maps were oriented to the west (hence, north is on the right-hand side of the map, and the Lake Constance is shown near the bottom of the map, with Basel above it.)
Publication History and Census
This map was introduced in the first, German edition of Cosmographia Universalis of 1544; it remained in that work and in later editions of Munster's Ptolemy until 1578, after which point the double-page maps of the long-lived Cosmographia were replaced and updated. This state of the map corresponds to all three Italian editions of the Cosmographia(1558, 1571 and 1575). The verso texts of all three are identically typeset, and the maps of all three are of the same 1558 state across the board; it is therefore probable that the maps of all three editions were in fact printed at the same time in 1558 and that the later editions were bound from the original 1558 printed stock. While this individual map is only catalogued once in OCLC, The Italian editions of Cosmographia are noted in fifteen institutional collections.


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. Cosmographia. (Basel, Petri) 1558     The Cosmographia Universalis, one of the greatest geographical and historical works of the 16th century, 'taught nearly three generations of laymen most of what they knew about the world beyond their native places' (Strauss). Filled with maps, views, and rich descriptions of places throughout Europe and beyond, it was the best general source of geographical information until the advent of Ortelius' Theatrum. It was first issued by Sebastian Munster (1488 - 1552) in its 1544 German edition, and stayed in print long after its author's death in thirty five editions, and in five languages. (Of these, the 1550 and 1552 editions are widely regarded as the most complete and truest to the author's intentions: thereafter, later editors continued to add to the work's text; editions from 1588 onwards employed an entirely different set of maps produced on Ortelius' model.) Munster's goal, initially, was to rally his homeland's humanists and scholars to produce a new map of Germany in order to 'see what kind of a land our ancestors conquered for their home... bring honor to our country and place its beauties in the clear light of day.' Munster's project quickly expanded to cover the known world in its scope to produce a 'sufficiently large volume, in which I touch upon the foundation of all nations and kingdoms, their peculiarities, rivers, mountains, customs of men, royal successions, origins of the more important cities, succinct histories, religions, characteristics and fertility of lands... in Germany, however, I tarry a little longer.'.

Munster's methodology in Cosmographia is notable in particular for his dedication to providing his readers with direct access to firsthand reports of his subjects wherever possible. Many of the maps were the result of his own surveys; others, the fruit of an indefatigable letter writing campaign to scholars, churchmen and princes throughout Europe, amicably badgering them for maps, views, and detailed descriptions of their lands. For lands further afield than his letters could reach, Munster relied on the best that the authorities of northern European scholarship could offer: he was well familiar with the work of Waldseemuller and other geographers of the early 16th century, and was well connected with the best geographers of his own generation. A disproportionate number of the maps of Cosmographia show contemporary geographical knowledge of the their respective areas for the very first time: The first map to show the continents of the Western Hemisphere; the first map to focus on the continent of Asia; the first modern map to name the Pacific Ocean; the first map to use a key; the first modern map of the British Isles and so on. Even in cases where earlier maps exist, Munster's works very often remain the earliest such acquirable by the collector.


Very good condition. Some toning along the centerfold and upper margin.


OCLC 1040359826 (misdated). McLean, Matthew The Cosmographia of Sebastian Munster: Describing the World in the Reformation (Ashgate, 2007). Ruland, Harold L. 'A Survey of the Double-page Maps in Thirty-Five Editions of the Comographia (sic) Universalis 1544-1628 of Sebastian Munster and in his Editions of Ptolemy's Geographia 1540-1552' in Imago Mundi XVI 1962