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Description

An interesting map of Sumatra and the southern part of Malaysia. A city at the southern tip of the Malaysian peninsula named Cing may represent Singapore. Despite surprising accuracy in the rest of the map, the Straits of Malacca lack some detail. Pulau Ujong (Singapore Island) is not shown, and several other major islands including Batam, Bintam, and Rupat are hard to identify. Batam and the Straits of Singapore may be guessed at, but it is hard to tell if this was by chance or design. Lingga is shown, along with a cluster of islands that could be interpreted in several ways. Sumatra is slightly compressed, though its shape and positioning are roughly accurate. Upper Java is labeled, and off the coast of Sumatra are islands roughly aligning with the Mentawais. However, many of the islands on this map do not correspond to any on modern maps, somewhat typical of the time.

This area would have been of particular interest in the 16th century. The first Dutch trading ship would sail to Indonesia in 1595-'97, seven years after the publication of this map. The 400% profit they generated on return to the Netherlands would lead to many further trading expeditions from both the Netherlands and all of Europe and the establishment of East India companies.

The map includes a large cartouche of a man riding an elephant.

Sumatra was associated with the mythical island of Taprobana at the time, as suggested in this map. This island was described by the Greeks from very on, with De Mundo (supposedly by Aristotle) describing it as the size of Great Britain. By tracing the name for the island through to the maps of the Islamic Golden Age, it appears more likely that Taprobana was really meant to represent Sri Lanka rather than Sumatra, as shown here.

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.