Rare first edition of Munster's map of Taprobana, the island of Ceylon, which was sometimes confused with Sumatra on early maps.
Taprobana was an important post for trade between the east and the west, and was drawn too large on many maps because of its importance. Marco Polo states: It has a circumference of some 2400 miles. And I assure you that it used to be bigger than this. For it was once as much as 3500 miles, as appears in the mariners' charts of this sea. But the north wind blows so strongly in these parts that is has submerged a great part of this island under the sea. Many myths existed concerning Taprobana. It was believed to be the burial place of Adam, on Mount Serendib. The Great Khan reportedly made a mission to the Island in 1284 to retrieve Adam's teeth and other artifacts.
From the 1540 edition of Munster's Geographia, one of the most important works of the 16th century. Sebastien Munster is generally regarded as one of the important map makers of the 16th century. Munster was a linguist and mathematician, who initially taught Hebrew in Heidelberg. He issued his first mapping of Germany in 1529, after which he issued a call for geographical information about Germany to scholars throughout the country. The response was better than hoped for, and included substantial foreign material which supplied him with up to date, if not necessarily accurate maps for the issuance of his Geographia in 1540.
Sebastian Münster (1488-1552) was a cosmographer and professor of Hebrew who taught at Tübingen, Heidelberg, and Basel. He settled in the latter in 1529 and died there, of plague, in 1552. As a young man, Münster joined the Franciscan order and studied philosophy in Heidelberg. He also studied geography and mathematics in Loewen, as well as Hebrew at Freiburg.
In 1512, he was ordained as a priest and taught philosophy and theology at Tübingen from 1514 to 1518. While in Tübingen, he also conducted further studies in geography. He moved to Basel in 1518 and published a Hebrew grammar, one of the first books in Hebrew published in Germany. In 1521 Münster moved again, back to Heidelberg, where he continued to publish Hebrew texts and the first German-produced books in Aramaic. After converting to Protestantism in 1529, he took over the chair of Hebrew at Basel, where he published his main Hebrew work, a two-volume Old Testament with a Latin translation.
Münster made himself the center of a large network of scholars from whom he obtained geographic descriptions, maps, and directions. He published his first known map, a map of Germany, in 1525. Three years later, he released a treatise on sundials.
In 1540, he published Geographia universalis vetus et nova, an updated edition of Ptolemy’s Geographia. In addition to the Ptolemaic maps, Münster added 21 modern maps. One of Münster’s innovations was to include one map for each continent, a concept that would influence Ortelius and other early atlas makers. The Geographia was reprinted in 1542, 1545, and 1552.
Münster is best known today for his Cosmographia universalis, the first German-language description of the world. It was first published in 1554 and contained 471 woodcuts and 26 maps over 6 volumes. Many of the maps were taken from the Geographia and modified over time. It was released in at least 46 editions in 6 languages by 1650, with 21 German editions alone. The Cosmographia was widely used in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and the text, woodcuts, and maps all influenced geographical thought for generations.