The First Map of the Asian Continent
Nice example of the first printed map of the continent Asia, first published by Sebastian Munster in 1540.
The map shows Asia from the Caspian Sea and Persian Gulf to the Pacific. The Pacific Ocean shows an archipelago of 7448 islands, a forerunner to the better understanding of Southeast Asia, which is largely unrecognizeable, although Java Minor and Major, Porne (Borneo), Moluca and several other islands are named. The map does not include Japan, which appears on the map of America. The northeastern coast of Asia is also omitted. The map also includes a large sea monster and mermaid type creature.
Although largely based on Ptolemy's work, the map incorporates some of the more recent Portuguese discoveries. The outlines of the Indian subcontinent, between the Indus and the Ganges rivers are now in a more recognizable form, with "Zaylon" (Sri Lanka) correctly shown as an island. The Portuguese outpost of Goa and Calicut, the first place where Vasco da Gama landed in 1497, are depicted. Further to the east "Taprobana" is also designated as "Sumatra." The Portugese trading port of "Malaqua" is shown. Java is depicted as two separate islands. "Moloca," center of the spice island trade and the object of considerable conflict between Spain and Portugal is shown. The resolution of the dispute was the official purpose of Magellan's epic circumnavigation. The treatment of "Cathay" (China) is consistent with the writings of Marco Polo and other Venetian travellers.
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. Münster made himself the center of a large network of scholars from whom he obtained geographic descriptions, maps, and directions.
As a young man, Münster joined the Franciscan order, in which he became a priest. He then studied geography at Tübingen, graduating in 1518. He moved to Basel, where he published a Hebrew grammar, one of the first books in Hebrew published in Germany. In 1521 Münster moved again, 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 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.
He is best known for his Cosmographia universalis, first published in 1544 and released in at least 35 editions by 1628. It was the first German-language description of the world and contained 471 woodcuts and 26 maps over six volumes. Many of the maps were taken from the Geographia and modified over time. The Cosmographia was widely used in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The text, woodcuts, and maps all influenced geographical thought for generations.