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One of the Most Famous 16th Century Charts of Mythical Sea Monsters.

This is a fantastical index of monsters, both aquatic and terrestrial. Produced by Munster, the ideas for the monsters were adapted from Olaus Magnus's 1539 Carta Marina.

On land, the monsters are tusked, furred, fanged and horned. One sleigh rider successfully harnesses a caribou, while a religious figure fights a snake. Some of these monsters are evidently adapted from real beasts, while others are not. At sea, any relation to real fauna is difficult to imagine. A fanged, horse-headed monster growls at a ship full of sailors. Another ship is taken down by a sea serpent. With the exception of massive lobster and a truly terrifying duck-birthing tree, the rest of the animals evade explanation and even description.

The work draws inspiration from the Carta Marina, a navigational map of Scandinavia, Iceland, and the Baltic region, and one of the most important maps of northern European. All copies of the map were lost until the 18th century, so it survived only in works such as this chart, from which it drew inspiration. The Munster version of the monsters would be adapted by Abraham Ortelius for his 1587 map of Iceland, and this work would go on to influence many other 16th and 17th century mapmakers.

This is one of the most sought-after of all 16th-century curiosities. The work first appeared in Munster's Cosmographiae Universalis.

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.