Greatest Antique Maps: Munster America

Sebastian Munster. "La table des Isles neufues." Latin text. 11th state. Basle, [1540]-1568.

One of the greatest maps of North and South America ever produced, this fascinating woodcut map was first issued by Munster in his Geographia in 1540. Amongst it most salient points:
(a) This is the first printed map to depict North and South America as separate continents. Prior to this, maps showed discovered parts of North America either as a number separate islands or as connected to Asia. With the publication of Munster's map, North and South America were finally clearly shown as a separate and connected land mass.
(b) It contains one of the earliest and most obvious depictions of the false sea of Verrazano. In 1523-4, Verrazano sailed from Florida up the east coast to Newfoundland in the service of Francis I of France, thus becoming the first person to show definitely that the land discovered in the south by the Spanish was connected with the land discovered by the English in the north. Verrazano's voyage was a search for a route to the riches of the Orient, for Europeans thought that there must be an easy passage to the Pacific in the area. With this unfounded assumption firmly in mind, Verrazano jumped to the conclusion that he had spotted the Pacific Ocean when he saw a large body of water across a narrow bit of land north of Florida.
(c) Other bits of information from early voyages are nicely illustrated, including the recent voyage around the world by Magellan. Not only is the Strait of Magellan, "Fretum Magaliani," shown, as are the Marianas, Magellan's 'Isles of Thieves,' but Magellan's ship, the Victoria, is seen sailing in the Pacific. The explorations in the northeast of North America are evidenced by the name "Fancisca," as well as the correct depiction of Newfoundland, "Cortereal," as a single large island. Even Marco Polo's adventures in the orient are represented, with Japan in an archipelago consisting of exactly 7,448 islands, a 'fact' recorded by Marco Polo. The narrowness of the Pacific Ocean, which causes Japan to appear very close to the western coast of North America, is caused by the ancient belief that the earth was about 2/3rds its actual circumference.
(d) Other points of interest include the representation of the Yucatan Peninsula as an island, and the depiction of the lake upon which Temistitan, modern Mexico City, was built, as emptying into the Gulf of Mexico. In South America a wonderful vignette shows the existence of cannibals in a rather graphic fashion. The Spanish Flag is seen flying over the West Indies, while the Portuguese Flag is shown off the Brazilian coast, reflecting the Papal division of the New World between the two countries.

Antique Maps of the Western Hemisphere

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