Fine Sixteenth-Century View of Jerusalem From Münster's Highly Influential Work
An early and finely-engraved view, titled ‘The Holy City’, depicting Jerusalem surrounded by its ancient walls.
Religious sites and important landmarks are clearly labeled and rendered in aesthetically-pleasing detail. Sebastian Münster was one of the most important mapmakers of his time and this striking view is a testament to his craft.
The view is centered on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, shown rising high above all other structures. Jerusalem’s Golden Gates, newly restored by Ottoman rulers at the time of this work, are labeled at front. The Western Wall, the most holy site in Judaism, runs perpendicular to the Golden Gates at the city’s center.
The labeling choices and accompanying description of the featured sites are catered to Münster’s Christian audience, with the Dome of the Rock clearly depicted as a mosque but labeled as King Solomon’s Temple. Mount Zion can be seen above the city at top left, with King David’s tomb marked at its peak and the Church of Saint Peter in Gallicantu shown farther down the eastern slope (referred to here by its biblical name, the House of the Priest Caiaphas). Just outside of the city walls, the Church of Saint Anne, one of the longest surviving Crusader churches, is tucked into the hills at the base of Mount Zion.
Inside the city walls, Herod’s Palace is labeled at right. Pisaner Schloss (The Castle of the Pisans), today referred to as the Tower of David or the Citadel, is just to the left of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
Hakeldama (also known as the Field of Blood, where Judas was said to have hung himself) is at the far left. The Garden of Gethsemane and the Gihon Spring, the ancient city’s main water source, can be seen in the foreground.
This view’s accompanying German-language description would have provided context for Münster’s European viewers, eloquently describing each of the view’s featured sites by evoking biblical stories and the long, embattled religious history of Jerusalem (also referred to here as the Land of Zion). Muslim Ottoman control of Jerusalem is briefly discussed in the description, and contemporary Ottoman influence is clearly illustrated by buildings topped with the Empire’s distinctive crescent roof finials.
Münster's Geographia (first published in 1540) and Cosmographia (first published in 1544), are considered groundbreaking works in the history of cartography. This view was part of the Cosmographia, the earliest German description of the world and a major work in the revival of geographic thought in sixteenth-century Europe. Altogether, about forty editions of the Cosmographia appeared between 1544 and 1628, printed in German, Latin, French, Italian, and Czech. The Cosmographia consists of a set of six books; as noted above the title, this view is included in the fifth book.
This engaging view of Jerusalem was created by the dominant cartographer of the mid-sixteenth century, Sebastian Münster, and included in his seminal work, the Cosmographia. It is complete with fine illustrative detail and would be a worthy addition to any collection of Jerusalem, Münster, or sixteenth-century print.
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.