First Edition of Münster's Second Cosmographical-Astronomical Work
Münster's Guide to Lunar Motion
With a Fantastic Woodcut, Probably After Hans Holbein the Younger
An extremely rare book, one of Sebastian Münster's earliest astronomical publications. The work is a description of Münster's elaborate New Instrument (Instrumentum Novum), a device to measure and calculate astronomical phenomena relating to the moon. The present book is, in some ways, a companion to Münster's 1528 "Instrument of the Sun" (Erklerung des newen Instruments der Sunnen).
The present compact treatise, illustrated with several detailed woodcuts, is a kind of instruction manual on how to use Münster's New Instrument. The book advises on how to calculate astronomical information, including the waxing and waning of the moon, lunar eclipses, lunar motion, the use of the pole star, and various applications of astrological information, including in medicine and agriculture.
The fine detailed title page woodcut shows a Münster surrogate leaning off the parapet of a castle-like building wielding an astrolabe or similar device. The facade of the building sports a sundial. A man in the lower right foreground looks toward the person on the building, while a third person crouches to the ground while operating a compass. Three separate moon phase representations - including a lunar eclipse - hover over the evocative scene.
Sebastian Münster, renowned for his Cosmographia Universalis, first published in 1544, studied the movement of the planets, translated Ptolemy's Geographia into Latin and invented cosmological measuring instruments, some of which he details in the present book. Specifically, the present book includes a description of the instrument "to determine the course of the moon, the phases of the moon, the age of the moon and the width of the crescent moon, to calculate in advance the lunar eclipses that will occur, as well as, during the night, to determine the time using the moonlight or the position of two circumpolar stars" - Hantzsch, page 169.
Hans Holbein and the Authorship of the Title Page Illustration
Perhaps the most striking aspect of this work is its exceptionally well-composed and well-executed title page illustration. Indeed, the quality of that woodcut is so far beyond what one normally encounters in these kinds of books that it demands an attribution. The most likely suspect is Hans Holbein the Younger, whose work is frequently associated with Sebastian Munster.
The timing of this publication and comparisons with comparable Holbeing-attributed works from Munster's oeuvre strongly support this contention.
In 1528, Holbein left England and returned to Basle (a short trip down the Rhine from Worms). Derek Wilson (Hans Holbein: Portrait of an Unknown Man, page 165) says of this time:
Holbein went back to the practice of taking on whatever commissions were available, a step that must have been galling to someone whose skills were so much in demand in England. If the pickings were meagre he could at least draw on the capital brought back from London.... He called on old friends in the printshops and obtained orders for title-pages and illustrations. The finest designs made at this time were those for the publisher Heinrich Petri and the author Sebastian Münster....[who] must have heard from Erasmus, Petri and, probably, from Kratzer in England that Holbein was without peer as a draughtsman of great precision and was delighted to have him on hand. Holbein produced a series of magnificent drawings which appeared in Münster's various publications over the ensuing years.
Among these commissions was a design for the title page of Munster's 1534 Canones..., as well as for a 1534 Astronomical Chart of the Sun and the Moon, which was apparently intended for inclusion in the Canones... The visual relationship between these works is unmistakable. We also contend that Veit Rudolph Specklin (German, died in 1550) is a reasonable attribution for the woodcutter for the present book.
It might be the case that the rarity of the present work stood in the way of its previous attribution to Holbein.
This book is very rare in the market, the present example is the only copy recorded to have sold in the last two decades. We note only six copies in institutional confines per Worldcat, of which only a single example is in an American library, that at Harvard University.
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.
Hans Holbein the Younger (1497 ca.-1543) was one of the greatest artists of the Northern Renaissance. Born in Augsburg, Hans was taught his craft by this father and became a member of the Basel artists’ guild in 1519. He specialized in woodcuts, frescoes, and panel paintings, especially portraits. Holbein was working in Basel at the time of publication before moving to London to become the official court painter to Henry VIII. He spent two extended periods in the Tudor court, from 1526-8 and from 1532-43. He died in London of the plague.