The Waldseemüller map, Universalis Cosmographia, is a printed wall map of the world by German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller, originally published in April 1507. It is known as the first map to use the name “America”. Its main map, and his globe gores of the same date, depict the American continents in two pieces. These depictions differ from the small inset map in the top border, which shows the two American continents joined by an isthmus. The name America is placed on what is now called South America on the main map, this being the first map known to use this name. As explained in Cosmographiae Introductio, the name was bestowed in honor of the Italian Amerigo Vespucci. The map is drafted on a modification of Ptolemy’s second projection, expanded to accommodate the Americas and the high latitudes. A single copy of the map survives, presently housed at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. Waldseemüller also created globe gores, printed maps designed to be cut out and pasted onto spheres to form globes of the Earth.
The wall map consists of twelve sections printed from woodcuts measuring 18 by 24.5 inches (46 cm × 62 cm). Each section is one of four horizontally and three vertically, when assembled. The map uses a modified Ptolemaic map projection with curved meridians to depict the entire surface of the Earth. In the upper-mid part of the main map there is inset another, miniature world map representing to some extent an alternative view of the world.
The full title of the map is Universalis cosmographia secundum Ptholomaei traditionem et Americi Vespucii aliorumque lustrationes (The Universal Cosmography according to the Tradition of Ptolemy and the Discoveries of Amerigo Vespucci and others). One of the “others” was Christopher Columbus. The title signalled his intention to combine or harmonize in a unified cosmographic depiction the traditional Ptolemaic geography of Europe, Asia and Africa with the new geographical information provided by Amerigo Vespucci and his fellow discoverers of lands in the western hemisphere. He explained:”In designing the sheets of our world-map we have not followed Ptolemy in every respect, particularly as regards the new lands… We have therefore followed, on the flat map, Ptolemy, except for the new lands and some other things, but on the solid globe, which accompanies the flat map, the description of Amerigo that is appended hereto”.
Several earlier maps are believed to be sources, chiefly those based on the Geography (Ptolemy) and the Caveri planisphere and others similar to those of Henricus Martellus or Martin Behaim. The Caribbean and what appears to be Florida were depicted on two earlier charts, the Cantino map, smuggled from Portugal to Italy in 1502 showing details known in 1500, and the Caverio map, drawn circa 1503–1504 and showing the Gulf of Mexico.
At the time this wall map was drawn, Waldseemüller was working as part of the group of scholars of the Vosgean Gymnasium at Saint-Dié-des-Vosges in Lorraine, which in that time belonged to the Holy Roman Empire. The maps were accompanied by the book Cosmographiae Introductio produced by the Vosgean Gymnasium.
A facsimile copy of the Waldseemüller map is prominently displayed in the Treasures Gallery of the Library of Congress in Washington, DC.
Of the one thousand copies of the wall map Waldseemüller stated were printed, only one complete copy is known. It was originally owned by Johannes Schöner (1477–1547), a Nuremberg astronomer, geographer, and cartographer. Its existence was unknown for a long time until its rediscovery in 1901 in the library of Prince Johannes zu Waldburg-Wolfegg in Schloss Wolfegg in Württemberg, Germany by the Jesuit historian and cartographer Joseph Fischer. It remained there until 2001 when the United States Library of Congress purchased it from Waldburg-Wolfegg-Waldsee for ten million dollars.
Historical Map Making Timeline
- 15th century: The German monk Nicholas Germanus wrote a pioneering Cosmographia. He added the first new maps to Ptolemy’s Geographica. Germanus invented the Donis map projection where parallels of latitude are made equidistant, but meridians converge toward the poles.
- 1492: German merchant Martin Behaim (1459–1507) made the oldest surviving terrestrial globe, but it lacked the Americas.
- 1502: Unknown Portuguese cartographer made the Cantino planisphere, the first nautical chart to implicitly represent latitudes.
- 1504: Portuguese cartographer Pedro Reinel made the oldest known nautical chart with a scale of latitudes.
- 1507: German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller’s World map (Waldseemüller map) was the first to use the term America for the Western continents (after explorer Amerigo Vespucci).
- 1519 : Portuguese cartographers Lopo Homem, Pedro Reinel and Jorge Reinel made the group of maps known today as the Miller Atlas or Lopo Homem – Reinéis Atlas.
- 1530: Alonzo de Santa Cruz, Spanish cartographer, produced the first map of magnetic variations from true north. He believed it would be of use in finding the correct longitude. Santa Cruz also designed new nautical instruments, and was interested in navigational methods.
The idea occurred for an entry into an Atlantian Twelfth Night cartography competition, in concert with an article in the press about the Waldseemuller map being displayed by the Library of Congress.
The wall map consists of twelve sections printed from woodcuts measuring 18 by 24.5 inches (46 cm × 62 cm), which have been digitally stitched together by the Library of Congress and is available in the public domain. The “original” is approximately 90 inches wide. Given the size constraints of my materials and a desire to have a final product that could be framed and transported, this was reduced to 38 inches wide, as this is the maximum size of pergamenata available locally. A whole piece of pergamenata was obtained from John Neal Bookseller.
Pergamenata was chosen as substrate due to ease of correction of mistakes. Pergamenata when painted or printed in ink can be scraped with a blade to remove mistakes. After reconditioning and burnishing the surface it can then be written on again with virtually no marks to betray the correction. Paper is far less forgiving, and good paper of similar weight is much harder to backlight for ease of tracing.
A modified light box was used to transfer the image from the printout of the map to the pergamenata. The print-out was taped to a window and backlit with a lamp. Tracing is a period appropriate method of transferring artwork from one surface to another. Tracing has been noted as early as the 8th century, with tracing paper being in use by the 14th c. Not having a surface that lends itself to a work of this size, my back window was used to good effect.
Given the constraints of working in a vertical plane, Micron markers were used in the place of dip pen for all but the final calligraphy. Micron markers are pigment based, “single color pigments used to eliminate pigment separation, which translates to less fading and changing of color. The ink dries to a neutral pH, neither acidic nor alkaline, which protects the paper or material it is being used on. Since pigments by themselves do not guarantee that an ink is permanent, resins are added to make it waterproof which also make it universally compatible with other media such as watercolors, oils, acrylic paints, etc. The micron particles are small enough to remain stable within its water-based solvent, which promotes color shade consistency and smooth ink flow.”
The line art was done primarily with the 005 and 01 pens, with heavier lines inked with a 03 pen. 12 pens were used up during the process. This never
Given size constraints not all of the words on the map were able to be transferred onto the reproduction. The decision was made to use only the largest of the words, including the oceans, Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, and continents. The names of the winds are also transcribed. Much of the text simply becomes too small to render accurately at this size, as well as being extremely visually cluttered. Much of the explanatory text, in boxes, appears to have been printed on a press and then put into the map. These texts were also omitted, boxes left for the possibility of this being a scroll blank. The calligraphy on this reproduction was done in dip pen, with a Brause #6 nib, with Windsor and Newton India black ink. The few words on the map, nevertheless, took more than three hours of work, with the original map used as ductus for the hand.