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The Arctic Atlantic

Striking example of the second Münster map of Scandinavia, first issued in 1545 and in use until 1579.

It replaced the very rare first edition of the map, which appeared in only the first three editions of Münster 's Cosmographia.

Munster's first map relied upon the cartography of Jacob Ziegler's 1532 map. The present map, which shows nothing of North America, is based in part on the Olaus Magnus map of 1539.  

The map shows Scandinavia and the fringe of Northern Europe (Germany, the Baltic states, parts of Russia). Scotland and the northeast of England are included, as are the Faroes (Fare) and Tyle.

The latter likely refers to Thule, the northernmost point known to the Greeks and Romans. Thule was also tied to discussions of a navigable northern sea, which connected it to discussions of a Northwest or Northeast Passage.

Iceland is also included, with the fiery volcano of Hekla. The volcano was famous in Europe from as early as the twelfth century, known for its violent eruption of 1104. Hekla continued to erupt regularly during Iceland’s inhabited history, including, most recently before the creation of this map, in 1510.

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 German, Latin, French, Italian, English, and Czech.

Münster was widely traveled himself, but he also gathered sources for the work from ancient and more modern sources. These included Herodotus, Strabo, and Titius Livius, as well as Marcantonio Sabellico, Beatus Rhenanus, and Aegidius Tschudi. He additionally collected reports from recent travelers, which he integrated into his descriptions. These descriptions 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.

Vincent H. de P. Cassidy, “The Voyage of an Island,” Speculum 38, no. 4 (1963): 595-602. KAP
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.