First edition of Munster's map of the World, one of the most recognized world maps of the 16th Century.
This example is from the first woodblock (1540-1545), which can be distinguished from the editions of 1550 and after, the later editions being significantly revised and including the initials (DK) of the engraver David Kandel.
The map is based upon a mix of information derived from Verrazano's explorations (1522-24), which mistook the Chesapeake for the Pacific Ocean, and Cartier's voyages (1534-35) up the St. Lawrence in search of the Northwest Passage. The west coast of America appears on the right side of the map. This is also the 1st map to name the Pacific Ocean (Mare Pacificum). Munster is non-committal as to the continuity of North and South America, an unbroken Central America being implied but not clearly shown. Though unnamed, Terra Australis is present but small, only serving to form the Magellan Strait.
All of North America is called Terra Florida. Munster here adds further to the current confusion over Taprobana and Ceylon, depicting a Sumatra-shaped Taprobana on the west side of the Indian subcontinent, and Java in the approximately correct size and position of Sri Lanka.
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.