1. Projecting the World


1. The World, 1482

This version of Ptolemy’s 1482 world map is possibly the most famous and highly sought-after of all 15th-century world maps. It is a map of many firsts: the first map of the world printed north of the Alps; the first to appear in color; and the first world map signed by its engraver, Johanne Schnitzer.

While Ptolemaic in construction, the map does reflect some modern updates. It follows the manuscript map of Germanus from the 1470s and includes information about Scandinavia, based on Caudius Clavius’s map of 1427. However, the Portuguese discoveries in Africa are omitted and the map retains a land-locked Indian Ocean, with a land bridge or unknown southern continent connecting Asia and Africa. Twelve windheads ring the map, each of which is named.

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Claudius Ptolemy, (c.127-180 AD)
Leinhart Holle
[The World]

From: Ptolemy’s Cosmographia
Ulm, 1482
Osher Collection

2. World, 1511

This 1511 world map is the first to use Sylvanus’s distinctive cordiform (heart-shaped) projection and is from the first atlas to use two-color woodblock printing.

Sylvanus set out to update Ptolemy’s maps with modern information, often from contemporary manuscript sources. The resulting effect was an unusual hybrid of classical and modern information. The world map that Sylvanus produced was the first in an edition of Ptolemy’s Geograhia to show the newly discovered Americas. South America, of which only the eastern coast is shown, is named Terra Sanctae Crucis, but bears no additional place names. The islands of Cuba and Hispanola appear overly large and surrounded by numerous small, unnamed islands. Additionally, the island of Zampagv (Japan) appears for only the second time on a printed map.

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Bernardo Sylvanus
[The World]

From: Ptolemy’s Geographia
Venice, 1511
Osher Collection

3. Universalior Cogniti Orbis Tabula…, 1507

Depicted using Ptolemy’s first projection (coniform), Ruysch’s world map incorporates the discoveries of the Portuguese, Spanish, and English explorers in America as well as information from Marco Polo’s account of his travels.

Ruysch adopts Amerigo Vespucci’s name Mundus Novus (New World) in South America as well as Terra Sanctae Crucis. The explored regions of North America (Terra Nova, Venlant, etc.) indicate John Cabot’s exploration of Newfoundland, but remain attached to the Asian continent consistent with the theories espoused by Christopher Columbus.

The polar regions show four large land masses in the Polar Sea, constituting the first serious attempt to depict these regions on a printed map, partly based on reports in the book Inventio Fortunata of the English friar Nicholas of Lynne. Interestingly, the island above Norway shows remarkable similarities to Svalbard, which would not be discovered until 1597 by Willem Barentsz. The treatment of India, Eastern Asia and Africa are all considerably modernized from the maps of Ptolemy.

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Johannes Ruysch
Universalior Cogniti Orbis Tabula ex Regentibus Confecta Observationibus

Rome, 1507
Osher Collection

4. Deliniatio Cartae Trium…, 1598

A major landmark in Arctic cartography, this map depicts the details of Barentsz’ third voyage of 1596-7, including many of his geographic discoveries, such as Spitsbergen. It exhibits a sophisticated understanding of the polar coasts of Europe as far east as Novaya Zemlya (“New World” in Russian.) Further to the east, beyond the speculated coasts of Asia, lies the apocryphal Strait of Anian, the supposed gateway to the North West Passage.

In contrast to the geographic sophistication of Novaya Zemlya and Asia, the map also contains the mythical island of Frisland (Friesland) in the northwest Atlantic, the mythical Estotiland of the apocryphal 14th-century voyage by the Venetian brothers Zeno, as well as thirty-four illustrations of sea monsters.

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Willem Barentsz, (c.1550-1597)
Deliniatio Cartae Trium navigationum per Batavos, ad Septentriionalem plagam, Norvegiae, Moscoviae, et novae Semblae…Willem Barents van Amstelredam de vermaerde Piloot

The Hague, 1598
Osher Collection

5. Novus Orbis, 1545

Münster’s Novae Insulae, the most widely disseminated and influential map of the Americas during the mid-sixteenth century, is the earliest map to show all of North and South America in a truly separate, continental form. It also includes a very early appearance of the Straits of Magellan, along with his ship Victoria in the Pacific Ocean.

Münster’s title, Novae Insulae or “new islands,” reflects the initial belief that Columbus had reached the supposed islands off Asia. After the extensive lands south of the Caribbean were recognized to constitute an entirely new continent—called America—Europeans still thought of the little known northward lands as being the Asian islands. In searching for a route through those islands in 1524-25, Giovanni di Verrazano ended up tracing the coast from Florida to Narragansett Bay. Even so, he identified a possible route to the Indies by reconfiguring the Outer Banks to be a sandy isthmus, with the Indian Ocean just beyond. Münster thus represented an ambiguous geography. By labeling both north and south together as Novus Orbis, Münster extended continental-status to North America. At the same time, he popularized Verrazano’s isthmus, showing it as connecting Terra Florida with Francisca (named for France).

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Sebastian Münster, (1482-1552)
Novae Insulae XXVI Nova Tabula : Novus Orbis

Basle, 1545
Smith Collection

6. Typus Cosmographicus Universalis, 1555

Most likely prepared by geographer Sebastian Münster and decorated by artist Hans Holbien the Younger, this map illustrated the Basel edition of Novus Orbis Regionum, a collection of early voyage accounts, first published in 1532 and republished in 1555.

The map carries over geographic relics from the Old World, while trying to rationalize the newest discoveries in the Western Hemispheres. Following the models of Waldseemüller and Apianus, and using Bordone’s oval projection, the New World is shown as a separate continent named America and placed between two distinct Oceans. However, ideas from previous eras are evident, including the Pacific Ocean’s diminutive size, Japan’s (Zipangri) placement only a short distance west of North America (Terra de Cuba), and the strait separating North and South America.

The border of the map by Holbien shows exotic scenes reflecting the prevalent European misconceptions about other continents and their inhabitants. Cannibals, winged monsters, and natives with large deformed lips predominate. Appearing at both poles are winged angels turning the world on its axis, eleven years before Copernicus published his theory of the solar system.

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Sebastian Münster, (1482-1552)
Hans Holbein, (1497-1543)
Typus Cosmographicus Universalis
Basle, 1555
Osher Collection

7. Typus Universalis, 1542

This world map from the 1542 edition of Ptolemy’s Geographia is probably the best representation of what the world looked like to educated 16th-century Europeans. The first to name the Pacific Ocean “Mare Pacificum,” Münster’s map follows Verrazano’s voyages and depicts the Pacific Ocean cutting deeply into North America from the north, leaving only a narrow isthmus on the East coast, which was believed to be the sea that would lead to the coast of China.

Marco Polo’s influence is seen in Japan, which is misplaced and arbitrarily shaped. The map’s depiction of Africa, the outline of which is surprisingly accurate for the time period, includes two lakes in the Mountains of the Moon, which was thought to be the source of the Nile.

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Munster, Sebastian (1482 -1552)
Typus Universalis

Basle, 1542
Smith Collection

8. Aevi Veteris, Typus Geographicus, 1595

In this decorative map, Ortelius divides the Ancient World into five climatic zones. Although its place names are taken from the ancient times of Ptolemy, this map presents the landmasses in relatively contemporary configurations and illustrates the Portuguese discoveries in South and East Asia and Richard Hakluyt’s discoveries in the North. A richly ornate border incorporating four small insets—representations of Europe, Asia, Africa, and America, constituting the modern world—frames the map.

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Abraham Ortelius, (1527-1598)
Aevi Veteris, Typus Geographicus

From: Ortelius’s Theatrum Orbis Terrarum
Antwerp, 1595
Osher Collection

9. [Ritter’s sundial map], 1640

Designed to link time and space, this unique map is projected from the North Pole as if the world were on the table of a sundial. Ritter developed this take on a gnomonic projection to follow the shadow that a sundial would cast at the latitude of Nuremberg, his home city. While the continents appear to increase in size the further away they are from North Pole, the map actually maintains correct mathematical scale and only seems to be distorted.

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Franz Ritter (d. 1641)
[Ritter’s Sundial Map]

Nuremburg, 1640
Osher Collection

10. Orbis Terrae Compendiosa Descriptio…, 1595

This beautifully engraved map appeared in an early Dutch book on navigation to the East and West Indies, and its imagery is a complex mixture of allegory and natural history. It is one of the first printed maps of the world to include allegorical vignettes around both hemispheres. The border decorations consist largely of personifications of the continents, set against landscapes depicting their respective terrains, fauna, flora, and scattered inhabitants. At the upper left, seated on a globe and bearing a scepter and cornucopia, Empress Europa surveys a coastal scene with an offshore fleet, mountaintop castles, various domestic animals, and wild bears. Across from Europe sits Asia, holding a censer and seated on a camel, with a European-style church and castle in the background. A giraffe and rhinoceros are illustrated nearby, displaced from their normal habitat. At the lower left, America is seated on an armadillo, holding an arrow and a European style battle-ax. Behind her are Native Americans hunting and engaging in cannibalism. Africa, seated on a crocodile at the lower right, holds a snake in her left hand and, in her right, a leafy branch, likely a sprig of balsam to represent tribute.

The geography of the map shows updated details based on recent English voyages and the description of Japan by Portuguese cartographer Luiz Teixeira. The map also turns Willem Barentsz’s Novaya Zemlya (see map #4) into an island with an open sea representing the North-West Passage between it and the Arctic.

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Petrus Plancius
Jan Baptista Vrients
Orbis terrae compendiosa descriptio ex peritissimorum totius orbis gaegraphorum operibus desumta : Antverpiae apud Joanem Baptistam Vrient

Antwerp, 1596
Osher Collection