Striking view of Selestat, from Munster's Cosmographia, first published in 1544. The woodblock view shows the then-German city in the Alsace region from along the River Ill, with many towers, houses, and mountains visible.
Above the map, the coat of arms of the Holy Roman Emperor is held by a flying figure. Selestat had been declared a Free Imperial City in 1217 following the decline of Frederick II, and it became a thriving economic center. Following 1520, the town itself started to decline when its local humanist school (which had previously housed Erasmus on his visits to the city) lost influence, and later troubles related to the Reformation disrupted the city's security.
Munster issued his first mapping of Germany in 1529, after which he issued a call for geographical information about Germany to scholars throughout the country. The response was better than hoped for, and included substantial foreign material, which supplied him with up-to-date, if not necessarily accurate maps for the issuance of his Geographia in 1540.
Münster's Cosmographia was the first German-language description of the world, and one of the defining books of the Renaissance. It contained 471 woodcuts and 26 maps over six volumes. First published in 1544, the Cosmographia was hugely popular in addition to being influential for contemporary cartographers like Mercator and Ortelius. It was published in at least 35 editions by 1628; these editions included examples in Latin, French, Italian, English, and Czech. After Münster's death, Henri Petri, and later his son, Sebastien Petri, took charge of printing editions.
Münster drew from his own travels in the work in addition to using other ancient and more modern sources. These sources included Herodotus, Strabo, and Titius Livius, as well as Marcantonio Sabellico, Beatus Rhenanus, and Aegidius Tschudi. Münster additionally collected reports from recent travelers, which he integrated into his descriptions. These descriptions generally included detailed overviews of the customs, dress, and organization of peoples around the world, earning him a prominent place in the histories of geography and anthropology.
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.