Today we salute you, Sebastian Münster, 16th century German Cartographer. Because of your many highly detailed and colorfully imaginative maps, you are truly a cartographic rockstar.
Münster is most well-known for publishing the Cosmographia, a collection of maps of the world, which went through several editions starting in 1544. He mapped out cities, countries, continents, and the whole world, using the knowledge gained from the latest explorations by Magellan and others. What is especially remarkable about the Cosmographia, though, is the amount of impressive woodcuts it included. These so marveled the public at the time that it became one of the best-selling books of the 16th century.
First, let’s look at a woodcut of Münster’s Map of America, which was the most widely circulated one at the time. The eastern coastline of the Americas and Caribbean islands are drawn pretty well, but it is evident that knowledge of the western American coastline and beyond is still spotty. That island to the west of Mexico is Japan, with India and Cathay (China) not too far away to the northwest. Future editions would be more accurate. However, I continue to be struck by the attractive colors of this map, and the ship in the Pacific Ocean seems to be beckoning the reader on an adventure on the High Seas.
Below, our Cartographic Rockstar became more creative with his depiction of the continent of Europe. Flipping it 90 degrees, he portrayed it as a queen, with different countries and regions signifying different body parts. It’s pretty fascinating, and he didn’t even have to distort the shape of the continent all that much.
Now we have a map of the whole world, which Münster created in 1553. As above in the Map of America, the Pacific Ocean is far too small, and it seems a mere hop from the West coast of America to Japan. Africa is also not to scale, Asia is missing its Southeast peninsula, and the continent of Australia is still waiting to be found. But I am once again drawn to all the other imaginative touches which Münster brings out. Bright colors abound, sea dragons lurk beneath the waves, and heavenly beings blow winds from all sides. I can almost see the gleam in his eye as he draws these features on the map.
But Münster’s colorful imagination was not contained to the map itself. His Cosmographia contained even more strange characters in the margins, such as the Blemmyes, a headless creature with his face in his chest, seen below. Writers throughout the ages, such as Pliny the Elder, believed that the Blemmyes existed in remote parts of the earth, and so Munster suggested they could be living on one of those islands out there in those dangerous seas which were now being explored.
Alas, the Bemmyes were never found. It just goes to show that sometimes cartographers let their imaginations get the better of them.
But on the other hand, it certainly makes for a more entertaining map! Bravo, Münster, the Cartographic Rockstar!