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Stock# 96321

Early Edition of this Foundational 16th-Century Work on Geography.

Geographia Universalis, compiled by Sebastian Munster and published in Basel by Henri Petri in 1545, is a remarkable piece of cartographic history. This is the fourth edition, following the Basel Latin editions of 1540, 1541, and 1542, which stands out for its inclusion of many maps not seen in the earlier editions of the Geographia.

Munster's Geographia established a new standard for world atlases by including specific continental maps of the Americas, Europe, Africa, and Asia, setting a convention that would be followed in future atlases. Additionally, the Geographia was the first printed work to render latitude and longitude in their now-standard degree-minute-second form.

The influence of global exploration, such as Magellan's circumnavigation in 1522, is also evident in the atlas, reflecting a growing interest in worldwide geography during the Renaissance period. Münster's Geographia was instrumental in ushering in a series of "modern"-style world atlases, culminating in the 1570 Theatrum Orbis Terrarum by Abraham Ortelius.

Sebastian Münster's efforts in creating the Geographia Universalis marked a critical juncture in the history of cartography. His work not only served as a snapshot of geographical understanding during the Renaissance but also acted as a catalyst for the development of modern atlases. By thoughtfully curating maps and adhering to emerging geographical principles, Münster's Geographia became a valuable and fascinating document, reflecting the evolving perception of the world in the 16th century.

Comparison with the Previous Edition

Compared with the 1542 edition, this book adds the following maps: Nova Graecia, Helvetia I Rheni, Secunda Rheni, Brabant III Rheni, Slesia, Septentr. Regiones, Transsylvania, Sclavonia, Bohemia, Valesia I, Valesia II, and Nigra Silva.  The first seven of these appeared in the 1544 first edition Cosmographia, the others are wholly-new in this book.

Six maps that appeared in the first three editions have been removed in this edition: Helvetia I Rheni, Alsatia II Rheni, Tertia Rheni, Quarta Rheni, Brabantia V Rheni, and Schonlandia. Thus, in total the number of maps in the 1545 edition has grown from 48 to 54.

The Sources of Münster's Geographia

First compiled by Greek polymath Claudius Ptolemaeus in the 2nd-century, the Geographia was a gazetteer of the geographical and cartographical knowledge of the Roman Empire. It passed in manuscript form, almost entirely lost to history, until, in the 13th century it was rediscovered and the maps for it were redrawn by the Byzantine Greek monk Maximus Planudes.

Münster's text has its origins in the Latin-translation of Ptolemy by Willibald Pirckheimer, who in turn relied on the notes of Johannes Regiomontanus.  Pirckheimer's translation was first printed in the 1525 "Fries" Ptolemy. The text for the Fries Ptolemy was substantially corrected by Michael Villanovanus (Servetus) in 1535, and it is that corrected edition from which Münster took much of his text.

Münster's rendition of Ptolemy's Geography is a continuation of the tradition of map-illustrated printed Ptolemy atlases that began in Bologna in 1477. In the 16th century, that tradition was advanced by the 1507-08 Rome Ptolemy and the woodcut-illustrated atlases of Bernardus Sylvanus (1511), Martin Waldseemuller (1513 and 1520), and Lorenz Fries (1522, 1525, 1535, and 1541) all of which augmented the ancient cartography of Ptolemy with modern maps. Münster continued this practice and extended it still further, publishing for the first time a set of continental maps, including a specific map of the Americas (the first such printed map).

The woodcut borders on the verso text on some of the maps have been attributed to Hans Holbein, two are signed with Adam Petri's monogram. Holbein did much of this kind of work from Munster in the 1530s and '40s.


"M" ownership mark on the front title. (Not in Lugt.)
Two German booksellers' descriptions from the first half of the 20th century.
Private American collection.

Condition Description
Quarto. Later stiff vellum. Title labels seemingly applied over earlier labels and somewhat scraped and coming up. a-[c6], [*6], A-[N6], 54 woodcut maps, Aa-[Cc6]. Complete. (Some of the maps, particularly the ones appearing earlier in the collation, are misbound, but all are present. Small wormholes scattered throughout, largely confined to the gutters. Some minor toning. Title page repaired at the edges and tipped in, likewise with the final printed leaf. Endpapers renewed.)
Adams P-2228. Alden & Landis 545/22. Sabin 66487
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.