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Martin Waldseemuller: Orbis Typus Universalis

Map: WLD4278
Cartographer: Martin Waldseemuller
Title: Orbis Typus Universalis
Date: 1520
Published: Strasbourg
Width: 23 inches / 59 cm
Height: 17 inches / 44 cm
Map ref: WLD4278
Martin Waldseemüller had already produced one of the most important maps ever printed in 1507, his wall map of the world which was the first to label the New World as “America”.

However while he was producing the above map, he was also preparing his world-altering edition of Ptolemy’s “Geographia”; the traditional bound volume of medieval geography based on the geographical projection of the Graeco Egyptian map maker Claudius Ptolemy who flourished c.150AD. Although Ptolemy’s maps had been augmented during the medieval period to include crude depictions of the Far East, their scope was very much suited to the classical world. Waldseemüller’s innovation was to add a “Supplementum” or section of twenty new or “modern” maps to the twenty seven maps traditional to a “Geographia”. This “Supplementum” widened the scope of the “Geographia” and accounted for the extraordinary geographical advances made during the early Age of Discovery.

The project had a difficult development: work is believed to have begun c.1505, but progress was slowed by the inclusion of the twenty new maps, Waldseemüller’s engagement as a lecturer in cosmography, and the death of his patron, Duke Renee II of Lorraine, in 1508. Waldseemüller's partner in the project, Matthias Ringmann, also died in 1511. Therefore, it was not until 1513 that the volume was finally issued by the publisher, Johann Schott. By then, Waldseemüller had left the project and his work as the compiler and supervisor of the maps initially went uncredited. Despite these difficulties, the importance of Waldseemüller’s work was rapidly recognised and this edition became an enormously influential geographical compendium for decades. Waldseemüller is believed to have lived to see a second edition of the work issued in 1520, although he died shortly after, either in the same year or in 1521.

This map of the world, the first in the “Supplementum”, is a radical departure from the Ptolemaic model. It is the third commercially available printed map to show the discovery of the New World, indicated as a large unnamed landmass in the region Brazil, together with two islands, showing modern Cuba and the Dominican Republic and Haiti to the north. There is also a small coastline in the Atlantic, which is unlabelled and its geographical identity is unclear. In the text of the volume a reference was made that the New World discoveries were derived from the observations made by an Admiral. This has led this map to be called “The Admiral’s Map” and it is often associated with Christopher Columbus as one of the titles he requested upon his return to Spain was “Great Admiral of the Ocean”. However, there has been considerable academic debate about the identity of this Admiral or even if he existed. Certainly the geographical shapes of the New World discoveries owe more to the descriptions of Amerigo Vespucci in Brazil and the Portuguese Corte de Real brothers or Joao Fernandez for the mysterious coastline further north.

Early Portuguese voyages would also have been the sources for the outline of Africa and the newly drawn outlines of Arabia, the Indian sub-continent and the Malay Peninsula although there is still confusion between it and the “peninsula” of China.

There have been changes in the cartography of western Europe, with the shape of the United Kingdom substantially altered from its Ptolemaic fore bearer, greater detail in Scandinavia and the novel theory that Greenland was peninsula attached to north western Europe running parallel to Scandinavia.

Aesthetically, the map eschews the traditional Ptolemaic wind heads but instead differentiates itself with a multitude of rhumb lines, adding a claim that it is the first commercially available printed sea chart.

The importance of Waldseemüller’s map cannot be overstated. It is often cited as the first “modern” map of the world.

Framed. [Shirley 35] [WLD4278]