Oak Ridge, TN, USA

Contact us by email

Sebastian Münster and his "Cosmographia"

Table of Contents


Sebastian Münster

Sebastian Münster (born born Jan. 20, 1488, Ingelheim, electorate of Mainz [Germany]; died of plague May 23, 1552, Basel, Switzerland) was a German cartographer, cosmographer, and Hebrew scholar whose Cosmographia (1544; "Cosmography") was the earliest German description of the world and a major work - after the Nuremberg Chronicle of 1493 - in the revival of geographic thought in 16th-century Europe.

After studying at Heidelberg (1503-1508) and Tubingen (1514-1551), he entered the Franciscan order, but abandoned it for Lutheranism about 1529. In 1524 he was appointed to teach the Hebrew language at the University of Heidelberg; this appointment was ill paid, and it was evidently with no reluctance that Münster accepted an invitation to the chair of Hebrew at the university of Basel, whither he moved in 1529. At Basel he was to spend the rest of his life. In 1530 he married a widow of late printer Adam Petri, thus gaining for himself a measure of financial security and the services of the substantial printing-house of his stepson Heinrich Petri, who was to produce, sometimes in collaboration with Michael Isingrin, most of his later works. A disciple of Elias Levita, he was the first German to edit the Hebrew Bible (2 vols., fol., Basel, 1534-1535); this edition was accompanied by a new Latin translation and a large number of annotations. He published more than one Hebrew grammar, and was the first to prepare a Grammatica Chaldaica (Basel, 1527). His lexicographical labors included a Dictionarium chaldaicunt (1527), and a Dictionarium trilingue, of Latin, Greek and Hebrew (1530). In 1540 he published a Latin edition of Ptolemy's Geographia, illustrated with 27 woodcut maps after Ptolemy and 21 of Münster's own design. Of about 40 editions of the Cosmographia printed in Germany during 1544-1628, the 1550 edition, containing portraits, city views, and costume illustrations, is the most valued. His other works include Dictionarium trilingue (1530; “Trilingual Dictionary”), in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, and Mappa Europae (1536; “Map of Europe”). Although other cosmographies predate Münster's, he is given first place in historical discussions of this sort of publication, and was a major influence on his subject for over 200 years.

Heinrich Petri, his successor continued to publish new edition of the Cosmographia, as did Heinrich's son Sebastian Henri Petri. Münster text was much reprinted by other publishers, most notably by Francois de Belleforest, although the maps and plans used to illustrate this edition were taken from more modern sources - Abraham Ortelius's Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (1570), and Braun and Hogenberg's Civitates Orbis Terrarum, published from 1572 onwards. Indeed, for the 1588 edition of the Cosmographia, Sebastian Henricpetri substituted new maps taken from Ortelius, but using woodcuts cut in emulation of the copperplate style of Ortelius's maps.


The Content of "Cosmographia"

In nearly all works about Münster, his Cosmographia is given pride of place. Despite this, we still lack a detailed survey of its contents from edition to edition, during the years 1544 to 1628, and an account of its influence on a wide range of scientific disciplines. Münster obtained the material for his book in three ways. He used all available literary sources. He tried to obtain original manuscript material for description of the countryside and of villages and towns. Finally, he obtained further material on his travels (primarily in south-west Germany, Switzerland, and Alsace). Cosmographia contained not only the latest maps and views of many well-known cities, but included an encyclopaedic amount of detail about the known - and unknown - world and undoubtedly must have been one of the most widely read books of its time. Aside from the well-known maps and views present in the Cosmographia (including the first separate printed map of the Western Hemisphere), the text is thickly sprinkled with vigorous woodcuts: portraits of kings and princes, costumes and occupations, habits and customs, flora and fauna, monsters and horrors. Of about 40 editions of the Cosmographia printed in Germany, the 1550 edition, containing portraits, city views, and costume illustrations, is the most valued. The 1544-1588 editions of Cosmographia are divided into six books. Book I is a useful summary of astronomical-mathematical and physical geography. Book II deals with England, Spain, France, and Italy. Book III deals with Germany and surrounding lands. Book IV embraces northern, eastern, and south-eastern Europe. Books V (Asia and America) and VI (Africa) are of modest proportions. The 1614 and 1628 editions of Cosmographia are divided into nine books. Nearly all the sections, especially those dealing with history, were enlarged. Descriptions were extended, additional places included, errors rectified.

Content, 1544-1598 Editions
Book I
Astronomy, Mathematics, Physical Geography, Cartography
Book II
England, Scotland, Ireland, Spain, France, Belgium, The Netherlands, Luxembourg, Savoy, Trier, Italy
Book III
Germany, Alsace, Switzerland, Austria, Carniola, Istria, Bohemia, Moravia, Silesia, Pomerania, Prussia, Livland
Book IV
Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland, Hungary, Poland, Lithuania, Russia, Walachia, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey
Book V
Asia Minor, Cyprus, Armenia, Palestine, Arabia, Persia, Central Asia, Afghanistan, Scythia, Tartary, India, Ceylon, Burma, China, East Indies, Madagascar, Zanzibar, America
Book VI
Mauritania, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Senegal, Gambia, Mali, South Africa, East Africa


Back to Table of Contents

Artists, Designers, Woodcutters

Well-known artists were recruited to design the illustrations. The drawings and fair copies of sketches supplied were made by Hans Rudiolf Manual, Davind Kandel, Jakob Clauser, Heinrich Holzmüller, and Christoph Schweicker.

Short Biography
Hans Rudolf Manuel Deutsch (1525-1571)
Hans Rudolf Manuel (Deutsch) was a painter, designer and poet. Probably apprenticed with Maximilian Wischack in Basel in the early 1540s, he often designed for publishers in that city, although he lived in Bern. Less than a dozen known independent pen drawings and stained-glass designs bear dates (1540-50) and the monogram RMD. He designed greatly acclaimed topographical views of cities for Cosmographia. From 1562 he was governor of Morges in the canton of Waadt.
David Kandel (1520 - 1592)
David Kandel was the son of a Strasbourg citizen and was probably born in that city. We know he was married in 1554 and owned a house in 1587. His activities as a woodcut artist are varied. He designed several portraits, some Biblical scenes, animal studies, topographical views and a number of valuable, early maps. Kandel's most famous work for Münster is the second version of the world map, appearing in the 'Cosmographia' from 1550 onwards.  His greatest works, however, are his botanical woodcuts, and of these, nothing surpasses his work for the Kreuterbuch of Hieronymus Bock. Von Dem Cappes Kraut originates from this tremendous 1546 study, which critically examined a large number of herbs, plants and trees, drawing upon recent investigations and theories by medieval and ancient writers.
Jakob Clauser (c1520 - 1579)
Jakob Clauser (Klauser) (c1520 - 1579) was a woodcut artist, painter, and draughtsman. In addition to "Cosmographia", he produced large woodcuts for the "Tabula Palatinorum Heroldi" (1556) and "Opera botanica" of Conrad Gesner, and also worked for Bonifacius and Basilius Amerbach.
Heinrich Holzmüller
Heinrich Holzmüller was a famous woodblock cutter working with Münster on Cosmographia
Christoph Schweicker
Christoph Schweicker was a Strasbourg master who worked from designs by Kandel and Vogtherr

Back to Table of Contents

Editions of Cosmographia
1544, 1546, 1548, 1550, 1553, 1556, 1558, 1561, 1564, 1567, 1569, 1572, 1574, 1578, 1588, 1592, 1598, 1614, 1628
1550, 1552, 1554, 1559, 1572
1552, 1556, 1560, 1565, 1568, 1575
1558, 1575

Back to Table of Contents

References & Links

  1. "Münster, Sebastian"  Encyclopædia Britannica  from Encyclopædia Britannica Premium Service
  2. Karl Heinz Burmeister " Sebastian Münster. Eine Bibliographie" Wiesbaden 1964
  3. Ruthardt Oehme. in " Sebastian Münster, Cosmographei", Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, Amsterdam 1968
  4. The Hebrew University Jerusalem, "Historic Cities
  5. "SEBASTIAN MUNSTER" LoveToKnow 1911 Online Encyclopedia
  6. 1598 Cosmographia, examples of the plates
  7. Woodcut pictures from 1552 Cosmographia (French) from Biblioteca "Alessandro Lazzerini" , Prato, Italy

Back to Table of Contents