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1588 Sebastian Munster Map of Sumatra and Malay (Malaysia)

Sumatra ein grosse Insel so von den alten Geographen Taprobana genennt worden. - Main View

1588 Sebastian Munster Map of Sumatra and Malay (Malaysia)


One of the earliest known recognizable maps of Malay and Sumatra.


Sumatra ein grosse Insel so von den alten Geographen Taprobana genennt worden.
  1588 (undated)     13 x 15 in (33.02 x 38.1 cm)     1 : 6000000


A spectacular 1588 Sebastian Munster map of Malay and Sumatra and one of the one of the earliest to specifically illustrate this region. Munster issued this map in the 1588 edition of his Cosmographia, an expansion upon the classical geography of Claudius Ptolemy that attempted to include recently discovered parts of the world. The map covers the southern parts of the Malay Peninsula (roughly what is Malaysia today), the entirety of Sumatra, and parts of adjacent Java and the Straits of Sunda. A city roughly situated where Singapore is today is identified as 'Cingafufa.' This has nothing to do with the city of Singapore as we know it today, but, it may have been the source for the term 'Singapore.'

This map is an update of an early map by Munster issued in 1550. There was a great deal of confusion in 16th century Europe with regard to the island of Tapobrana. While Tapobrana is most commonly associated with Ceylon (Sri Lanka), from the 15th century onward it was also identified with Sumatra. The earliest editions of Munster's Cosmographia featured a similar map that resembled Ceylon in form, but was positioned relative to the Malay Peninsula and the Equator where Sumatra actually rests. He updated the map in this, its second edition, to more accurately portray Sumatra both inform and content.

This map was drawn by Sebastian Henric Petri, Munster's step-grandson. It seems that Sumatra was surprisingly well known at the time with numerous locations correctly identified. Malay is far more vauge, though the cartograph does successfully name Queda (Kedah), Pera (Perak), Malacca, Muhar (Muar), Paam (Pahang), and Calanton (Kelantan).

An elephant and mahout appears in the lower left quadrant. The upper right quadrant includes a quotation from Pliny. Issued in the 1588 edition of Sebastian Munster's Cosmographia.


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...


Munster, S., Cosmographica, (Basel) 1588.    


Very good. Minor repairs bottom center. Else clean. German decorative text on verso.


Durand, Fr., Curtis, R., Maps of Malaysia and Borneo: Discovery, Statehood, and Progress, no. 13. National Library of Australia, MAP RM 4386. OCLC 308718053.