MÜNSTER, Sebastian (1488-1552)
Africa XVIII, Nova Tabula
[Basel: Heinrich Petri in the 'Geographia Universalis', 1542]. Woodcut map, in excellent condition. Sheet size: 11 3/4 x 15 1/8 inches.
The first state of the earliest reasonably obtainable map to focus on the depiction of the entire continent of Africa, and a veritable masterpiece of Renaissance cartography
This highly important map represents the earliest reasonably obtainable map to depict the entire continent of Africa. Africa XVIII, Nova Tabula, is a fantastic visual synergy of archaic imagination and recent exploration. The overall shape of the continent is quite well defined, having been extensively explored by the Portuguese since the time of Prince Henry the Navigator in the mid-fifteenth-century, a point highlighted by the appearance of a caravel in the lower part of the map. Africa's various kingdoms are denoted by pictorial symbols of a crown and sceptre. Following Ptolemaic tradition, the Nile has its source in a series of lakes that lie at the foot of the mysterious Mountains of the Moon. The land around the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa is embellished by the appearance of an elephant, and exotic parrots occupy trees in Angola. Most amusingly, near the coast of east Africa, the "Monoculi," or one-eyed man imagined by Classical writers sits in wait for some hypothetical European visitor. Münster was a brilliant polymath and one of the most important intellectuals of the Renaissance era. Educated at Tübingen, his surviving college notebooks, Kollegienbuch, reveal a mind of insatiable curiosity, especially with regards to cosmography. Münster later became a professor of Hebrew at Heidelberg, and then from 1529 at the University of Basle. In the 1530s, he turned his attentions to translating Ptolemy's Geography, adding new material that related to the lands newly discovered in Africa, the Americas and Asia. The result was the publication of his highly regarded Geographia Universalis, first printed in 1540. The present map is from the second edition, but still represents the first-state of the map, as the same unaltered woodblock from the initial printing was employed in the production of the second edition. Münster was also a trend-setter in his ideas regarding design and layout of maps, and he was one of the first to create space on his woodblocks for the insertion of place names in metal type. Münster later published his Cosmographia (1544, revised 1550), a monumental encyclopedic book of contemporary knowledge and legend that became one of the most widely read books in Europe.
Norwich, Maps of Africa, 2; Tooley, The Printed Maps of the Whole of the Continent of Africa, Part 1 (1500-1600), 6.