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Martin Waldseemuller

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Waldseemuller (Graecized ILACOMILUS), MARTIN, learned Humanist and celebrated cartographer, b. at Wolfenweiler near Fribourg, or in Fribourg itself, about 1475; d. as a canon of St-Die in Lorraine, probably at the beginning of 1522. The first authentic information concerning Waldseemuller is to be found in the matriculation register of the University of Fribourg, where his name is entered on December 7, 1490, as “Martinus Walzenmuller de Friburgo Constantiensis Diocesis”. His father moved about 1475 from Wolfenweiler to Fribourg; his mother seems to have been a native of Radolfzell on Lake Constance. There is no documentary evidence as to Martin‘s course of study at the university; it is plain, however, that he studied theology, for in 1514 he applied as a cleric of the Diocese of Constance for a canonry at St-Die, and obtained it. That he began early to devote himself to geographical and chartographical studies is also clear from his great masterpieces of geographical map-making which established his fame as early as 1507: the great map of the world and wall-map containing the name America; the small globe that also gives the name America, and the text to accompany the map and the globe, the much prized “Cosmographiae introductio”, which among other things gives the reason for the use of the name America on the map and globe, and contains, as an appendix, a Latin translation of the four journeys of Amerigo Vespucci. The title of this remarkable work, one of so much importance especially for America, is: “Cosmographiae introductio cum quibusdam geometriae ac astronomiae principiis ad eam rem necessariis. Insuper quatuor Americi Vespucii navigationes. Universalis Cosmographiae descriptio tam in solido quam plano, eis etiam insertis, quae Ptholomaeo ignota a nuperis reperta sunt”. The map of the world of 1507, entitled `”Universalis cosmographia secundum Ptholomaei traditionem et Americi Vespucii aliorumque lustrationes”, attracted the same attention upon its rediscovery by the writer of the present article as it did when first published. As Waldseemuller himself states, a thousand copies of the map were issued. Of these only a single copy seems to have been preserved, and this was found in the library of Prince von Waldburg-Wolfegg-Waldsee in the Castle of Wolfegg in Wurtemberg. The map consists of twelve sections engraved on wood, and is arranged in three zones, each of which contains four sections; each section measuring to its edge 18 x 24% inches. The map, thus covering a space of about 36 square feet, represents the earth’s form in a modified Ptolemaic coniform projection with curved meridians. It produced a profound and lasting impression on chartography, being of a wholly new type and representing the earth with a grandeur never before attempted. The preservation of the single copy of the map is due to the fact that the noted chartographer, Johannes Schoner, bound the different sheets together in a cover.

After completing the great publication of 1507, Waldseemuller and his friend Matthias Ringmann (Philesius) devoted themselves to completing the new Latin edition of the geography of Ptolemy. While Ringmann corrected the texts of the editions of Ptolemy issued at Rome and Ulm by means mainly of a manuscript Greek text borrowed from Italy that is now known as the “Cod. Vatic. Graec. 191”, Waldseemuller went over the accompanying maps and supplemented them by the addition of twenty modern ones, “which may be regarded as the first modern atlas of the world” (Nordenskiold, “Facsimile-Atlas”). In these chartographical labors Waldseemuller was aided by the secretary of Duke Rene of Lorraine, Canon Gaulthier Lud, who provided the necessary materials for the maps and the expenses of the printing. Waldseemuller sought in 1511 to interest Rene’s son and successor, Duke Antoine, in his chartographical labors by dedicating to him the first printed wall map of Central Europe, the “Carta itineraria Europe“, which has also been preserved in one copy found by Professor Dr. von Wieser. It does not appear, however, that Waldseemuller succeeded in this effort, for the publication of the edition of Ptolemy was not, as intended, at the expense of Lud and with the aid of the duke, but at the expense of Oessler and Uebelin, citizens of Strasburg. Waldseemuller’s name is not mentioned in this celebrated edition of Ptolemy of 1513, although he seems to have taken part in the production of the work as printer; he calls himself explicitly in a letter written at this date in Strasburg: “clerc du diocese de Constance, imprimeur, demeurant a Strassburg” (cleric of the Diocese of Constance, printer, living at Strasburg).

After the completion of the Strasburg edition of Ptolemy and after he had obtained the canonry at St-Die, to which Duke Antoine had the right of presentation, Waldseemuller zealously continued his chartographical labors in the little city of the Vosges Mountains. In addition to the map of the world in the “Margarita Philosophica nova” (Strasburg, 1515), issued by Gregorius Reisch, another result of his exhaustive research is the “Carta marina navigatoria” of 1516, which fairly competes in size and value with the great map of the world of 1507. It is markedly superior to the map of 1507 in its artistic ornamentation, and there are many important changes from the former map. It was so favorably received that the celebrated printer of Strasburg, J. Grieninger, applied to Waldseemuller to prepare German inscriptions for the map and to supply it with a fully illustrated German text so as to make it accessible to a greater number of persons. Waldseemuller began at once to make the preliminary preparations for this task, but death prevented him from completing it, as it also prevented his finishing a new edition of Ptolemy which was to be of a more convenient size and was to have an explanatory text and a large number of illustrations. Both these undertakings were completed by the physician Laurentius Fries; unfortunately, what he produced did not equal the work of his predecessor. Much credit, however, is due the modesty with which Fries, in the Strasburg edition of Ptolemy of 1525, deprecates being praised for simply having reduced in form the work of another to whom the praise is due. Waldseemuller’s maps and explanations are retained almost without change in the editions of Ptolemy of the years 1525, 1535, and 1541, while important emendations were made in the text of Ptolemy. Waldseemuller undoubtedly was one of the most distinguished chartographers of his time, and his work made a marked impression upon the development of chartography.


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