Figura del Mundo Universale

Zoom in on this oval map made by the German cosmographer Sebastian Münster in 1540.

By Google Arts & Culture

Spanish National Geographic Institute

Oval World Map (1550 (edition 1558)) by Sebastian MünsterOriginal Source: Biblioteca del Instituto Geográfico Nacional

Oval world map

Sebastian Münster was a key figure in the circulation of geographic knowledge in the 16th century. His oval world map, first published in 1540, serves as an example of the cartographic image that the average European had of their world in the mid-16th century.

Multilingual editions

At a time when most scientific and technical work was published in Latin, one of Münster's shrewdest business decisions was to publish his Cosmographia in several languages as well as Latin, which was the erudite language used to spread knowledge.

The Strait of Magellan

This world map was one of the first printed maps to show the expedition's geographic discoveries. The most significant, the Strait of Magellan, already appears labeled with its Latin name, Fretum Magallianum. Although this is the name still in use today, the explorers originally termed it the Strait of All Saints.

The Pacific Ocean

Münster was the first person to give the Pacific Ocean its name on a printed map: Mare Pacificum, in Latin. The crew on Magellan and Elcano's expedition were the first Europeans to cross the Pacific Ocean. They named it after the good weather they were blessed with during their journey across its waters.

The term America

The term America, coined in 1507 by Martin Waldseemüller and Mathias Ringmann, was used to name the New World after Amerigo Vespucci, who was mistakenly considered to have discovered it. This was copied on later maps by other cartographers, which helped to propagate this historical error.

Japan (Zipangri)

This map contains terrible geographic errors. One of them is that Japan is represented incorrectly, both in terms of latitude (showing it in the tropics) and longitude (shifted so far east that it is positioned very close to the Americas). The name Zipangri comes from the term Zipango, which Marco Polo used to refer to Japan. The name marked on the west coast of North America, Temistitán, is an incorrect version of the Aztec city name Tenochtitlán.

A route through North America

Reaching the Pacific via the Strait of Magellan was fraught with difficulty, so alternative routes were sought from the Atlantic. Throughout the 16th century, there was still a widely held belief that there was a route through North America. Münster's map depicts this mythical northwest route, which never existed.

Texts: Spanish National Geographic Institute

Image: Figura del Mondo Universale. Sebastian Münster. 1550 (1558 edition), Library of the Spanish National Geographic Institute, CC BY 4.0

Credits: All media
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