Decorative example of Sebastian Munster's second map of Asia, first published in 1588.
The map is significantly updated from Munster's first map of Asia, which was published in 1540 and, when issued, was the first printed map of the Asian Continent. The present map is heavily influenced by Ortelius' map of 1570 and follows the map with respect to many of its details and the map's projection.
Sebastian Münster (1488-1552) was a cosmographer and professor of Hebrew who taught at Tübingen, Heidelberg, and Basel. He settled in the latter in 1529 and died there, of plague, in 1552. As a young man, Münster joined the Franciscan order and studied philosophy in Heidelberg. He also studied geography and mathematics in Loewen, as well as Hebrew at Freiburg.
In 1512, he was ordained as a priest and taught philosophy and theology at Tübingen from 1514 to 1518. While in Tübingen, he also conducted further studies in geography. He moved to Basel in 1518 and published a Hebrew grammar, one of the first books in Hebrew published in Germany. In 1521 Münster moved again, back to Heidelberg, where he continued to publish Hebrew texts and the first German-produced books in Aramaic. After converting to Protestantism in 1529, he took over the chair of Hebrew at Basel, where he published his main Hebrew work, a two-volume Old Testament with a Latin translation.
Münster made himself the center of a large network of scholars from whom he obtained geographic descriptions, maps, and directions. He published his first known map, a map of Germany, in 1525. Three years later, he released a treatise on sundials.
In 1540, he published Geographia universalis vetus et nova, an updated edition of Ptolemy’s Geographia. In addition to the Ptolemaic maps, Münster added 21 modern maps. One of Münster’s innovations was to include one map for each continent, a concept that would influence Ortelius and other early atlas makers. The Geographia was reprinted in 1542, 1545, and 1552.
Münster is best known today for his Cosmographia universalis, the first German-language description of the world. It was first published in 1554 and contained 471 woodcuts and 26 maps over 6 volumes. Many of the maps were taken from the Geographia and modified over time. It was released in at least 46 editions in 6 languages by 1650, with 21 German editions alone. The Cosmographia was widely used in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and the text, woodcuts, and maps all influenced geographical thought for generations.