SEBASTIAN MÜNSTER (1489-1552) was a German mathematician, cartographer, professor of Hebrew, and, for a time, monk. He was the first mapmaker to produce separate maps of the four known continents and the first to publish a separate map of England.
The woodcut map on display is a version of the first map to show North and South America connected to each other but separate from any other land mass. The map was originally published in Münster’s edition of Ptolemy’s Geographia (Basle, 1540) as “Novae Insulae, XVII Nova Tabula”— and in Münster’s Cosmographia in 1544.
Cosmographia was one of the most influential works on geography in the mid-sixteenth century; it was translated into five languages and published in forty different editions. Münster’s map was the most widely circulated New World map of its time. It depicts the false Sea of Verrazano and the Northwest Passage and presents a view of North America before the Spanish explorations to the interior of the continent.
The map on display, from an Italian edition of Cosmographia published in Venice in 1571 or later, differs from the 1540 edition only in its title and labeling.