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"Seeing the World Anew: The radical
vision of the Waldseemüller maps"
In the early years of the 16th Century, Martin Waldseemüller, a
cartographer living in the eastern France, created two large world maps
that gave Europeans a new vision of the world revealed by the previous
decade's discoveries of Spanish and Portuguese navigators.
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|The 1507 map is the more famous, being the
first map to show America as a separate continent and not a part of
Asia, and the first map the use the name "America" for the New World.
The 1516 map is radically different, and in Van Duzer's eyes, much more interesting.
"Waldseemüller lived and worked in eastern France," Van Duzer said. "We know little of the scholar Waldseemüller himself, although we can see what was on his bookshelf. Only one copy exists of each map, at the Library of Congress.
Previous world maps had taken Ptolemy's work as a basis, and the 1507 map had its root in Ptolemy's world map. "Ptolemy's geography was a set of instructions for making maps and recording place names," Van Duzer explained. It showed how to locate things by latitude and longitude lines, and showed a land bridge between Southern Africa and Asia."
Many maps of Waldseemüller's time were nautical charts designed as practical tools for navigation. The emphasis was on coastal features. They showed the Mediterranean basin and Atlantic coast of Europe quite accurately, but lost detail along the coasts of Africa and Asia.
The 1516 "Carta Marina" by Martin Waldseemuller, now in the Library of Congress collection.
Waldseemüller's 1507 map was closely based
on a 1489 map drawn by Henricus Martellus, he said. It measures 4 by 6.5
feet, and is now at Yale University. "Waldseemüller used the same projection and same style for
showing latitude in the margins," Van Duzer said. "Martellus has a Ptolemaic
shape to Africa, the cartouche illustrations around the border are arranged the
same. The text is also the same. Other legends are very similar. Waldseemüller
used either this map or another similar lost map by Martellus."
But he didn't just copy Martellus, Van Duzer stressed. "He sometimes ignored Martellus or added his own material. The New World had not been discovered at the time of the Martellus map." Waldseemüller used Martellus for inspiration but did not copy him all the time.
|In Waldseemüller's 1507 map the significant new feature is the New
The Carta Marina of 1516 is a very different product.
Here Waldseemüller's aim seemed to be a map that showed trade routes and emphasized the possibilities of long distance navigation. The interior of North America and the vastness of the Pacific were still unknown to Europeans, Van Duzer explained. The 1516 map omits the Pacific Ocean entirely, since Magellan's globe-circling expedition did not depart until two years later.
The features shown in the 1516 map are therefore much larger and more detailed than the earlier map.
While Martellus based his 1489 map on a Ptolemaic grid of latitude and longitude, and Waldseemüller copied that in his 1507 map, Waldseemüller abandoned that format in his 1516 map.. "He adopted a nautical map by drawn in 1505 by Nicolay de Caveri of Genoa, Italy. The 1516 map employs a system of rhomb lines instead of latitude and longitude, giving compass bearings from one location to another rather than a map grid location.
Curiously, the 1507 map lists Amerigo Vespucci as co-discoverer of America with Christopher Columbus and gives his name to South America, but the name America does not appear on the 1516 map. It lists only Columbus as the discoverer, causing some to speculate Waldseem�ller had second thoughts about the "America" name.
Hispaniola is presented as "Ophir". Sumatra is given its name for the first
time, following travelers' reports.
"The 1516 Waldseemüller map contains the earliest European image of an opossum," Van Duzer notes. It also depicts a rhinoceros.
"Waldseemüller was comfortable working from a model, but he wanted to add much too it as well," Van Duzer said. He illustrated this by showing how his research reveals contemporary books from which Waldseemüller took illustrations and adapted them to his 1516 map.
Neptune in Venice
|One example is an image of King Manuel I of
Portugal riding a sea monster.
Van Duzer is the author of a separate book about sea monsters, and he said the 1507 map mentioned the danger of sea monsters in certain areas.
In the 1516 map, however, the message seems to be that mankind, in the image of King Manuel, has dominated the seas. Here he rides serenely on a sea monster next to a legend reading, "Lord of the conquest, and navigation, and commerce of Ethiopia, Persia and India."
Van Duzer showed that this image was adapted by Waldseemüller from a drawing of Neptune riding a sea monster in an illustration of Venice harbor. Neptune was a protector of Venice, he explained, and Waldseemüller adopted this scene for his image of King Manuel.
The 1516 map also contains a long list of prices of spices in India.
King Manuel of Portugal
Another illustration that Van Duzer tracked down was an image of the Indian burial ceremony of suttee. The 1516 map contains an illustration of a scene of suttee and it closely resembles a scene of a woman being forced into a funeral pyre that he found in a book published a year earlier by the Italian traveler and adventurer Ludovico di Varthema.
"We know very little about Waldseemüller," Van Duzer stressed. "We don't know where or when he was born. We know where he went to school. We ponder how he amassed such a trove of information in the little town where he lived, far from the coast."
Perhaps he had access to the library of a nobleman with a particularly good collection of books on travel and navigation. "There a reference to Duke Rene, but just the usual effusive thanks and dedication one usually sees here," Van Duzer added.
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