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One of the Most Interesting Antique World Maps of the 16th Century

A fine example of the Grynaeus / Munster map of the World, considered "from the artistic point of view one of the most interesting of the many world maps turned out in the sixteenth century".

Of the map, Rodney Shirley notes:

No imprint appears on this large and decorative map . . which was first printed in the 1532 edition of the Novus Orbis Regionum by Johann Huttich and Simon Grynaeus. Sebastian Munster contributed a long introduction Typi Cosmographici et Declarato et usus to their collection of voyages, and there have been arguments for and against his authorship of the accompanying map. It seems more probable that the map itself is Munster's whereas the decor is more frequently attributed to Hans Holbein the Younger . . .
Geographically the map . . . was probably prepared prior to 1532 based partly upon . . . the Schoner Globes, or on Apian's map of 1520. . . The projection follows the oval one of Bordone, with two cherubs energetically turning crank handles at the north and south poles.

The map itself is by Sebastian Munster (1488-1552), the era's most prolific mapmaker, famous for his great geographical work, Cosmographia (Basle, 1540).

The map's exquisite border decorations as attributed to Hans Holbein the Younger (1497-1543), one of the greatest artists of the Northern Renaissance. Holbein, originally from Augsburg was working in Basle at the time, before moving to London to become the official court painter to Henry VIII.

Holbein's conception depicts World being turned on its axis by cranks wielded by a pair of angels. Some have theorized that this represents the first published depiction of the Copernican conception of the Earth pinned on its axis as it orbits the Sun (predating the publication of Copernicus' work in 1543). In reality, this was probably only an artistic conceit, albeit an intriguing one.

Beyond that, the elaborate borders are enhanced with imaginary scenes of cannibals, winged serpents, elephants, and monsters, all derived from popular, but largely fictitious travel accounts of the era, notably Amerigo Vespucci's Mundus Novus (1503).

The vignette labeled 'Vartomanusi' in the lower right corner, refers to the explorations of Southeast Asia conducted by the Bolognese adventurer Ludovico di Varthema (1470-1517). Varthema was famously the first Christian known to have visited Mecca, and from 1502 to 1507, he extensively explored India, Indochina and Indonesian Archipelago. His account of his travels, Itinerario de Ludouico de Varthema Bolognese (Rome, 1510), was one of the most captivating of the early period of global exploration. The vignette in the upper-right corner depicts the spices that were the focus of trade to the East Indies.

The map is one of the most decorative and sought after of all early world maps that are reasonably obtainable to most collectors, owing to the tremendous success of the Huttich-Grynaeus text.

Condition Description
Minor restoration near lower centerfold. A small portion of very expert reinstatement at the bottom of the angel turning the world at the top of the map, proceeding into the water just above "Mare Congelatum".
Shirley 67.
Sebastian Munster Biography

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.