Martin Waldseemüller

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Detail of the map from 1507 on which the designation "America" ​​appears for the first time
Memorial plaque opposite the building at Löwenstrasse 16 in Freiburg. The house was destroyed by an aerial bomb during World War II. Today, part of the Kollegien Building III of the University of Freiburg stands at this point

Martin Waldseemüller (also Waltzemüller , Graecized Hylacomylus or Ilacomilus * to 1472 / 1475 in Wolfenweiler at Freiburg ; † 16th March 1520 in Saint Didel ) was a German cartographer of the Renaissance . He created the first world map on which the land masses in the west after Amerigo Vespucci were named "America".


Waldseemüller was not born in Radolfzell or Freiburg im Breisgau - as was often assumed in the past - but in Wolfenweiler in the Binzenmühle , which still exists today , as the son of a butcher . A street there is named after him today.

At the age of about 20 he was enrolled at the University of Freiburg in 1490 under the name Martinus Waltzemüller . He studied mathematics and geography. One of his teachers was Gregor Reisch , who introduced him to cosmography . During his studies he got to know Matthias Ringmann from Alsace .

After completing their studies, Waldseemüller and Ringmann traveled together to St. Didel (Saint-Dié-des-Vosges) on the west side of the Vosges in the Duchy of Lorraine . The monastery there had developed into a center of the humanist movement in the Middle Ages . Waldseemüller joined a small group of scholars who referred to themselves as the Vosagense Gymnasium. The Freiburg native taught there as a professor of cosmology, but at the same time worked as a cartographer with Ringmann, who was a professor of Latin .

Martin Waldseemüller died in 1520 in Sankt Didel / Saint-Dié-des-Vosges .


Waldseemüller map from 1507


One of the first writings that Waldseemüller wrote was Hylacomylus . It was a description of the voyages of the Italian navigator Amerigo Vespucci .

Waldseemüller map from 1507

Waldseemüller's best-known work is the map of the world he created in 1507 with the help of his partner Ringmann. Together with a terrestrial globe and an inscription, it is to be seen as a three-part project, the Waldseemüller the Latin name

Universalis cosmographia secundum Ptholomaei traditionem et Americi Vespucii aliorumque lustrationes ,

gave, in German:

"The complete cosmography according to the tradition of Ptolemy and according to Amerigo Vespucci and others"

The globe and the map are the first cartographic evidence to see the “ New World ” as a new continent and to name it America . One takes into account that the not very clearly localized Caveri map from 1506, which in turn goes back to the Italian Cantino Planisphere of 1502 and thus to the discoveries of the Portuguese Pedro Álvares Cabral around 1500 and other seafarers, one of the most sought-after works for the predecessor Map of Waldseemüller could have been.

Appreciation of Waldseemüller in the preface to Friesen's explanations

Origin and influence

The map consists of twelve rectangular individual pieces and was first prepared as a wood engraving . It is believed that it was commissioned and supported by René II , Duke of Lorraine. Due to the central location of his rule, he had good contacts to the European royal houses. It is believed that instead of bribes, he was given geographic information gathered by seafarers on their way west, when he was known to be very interested in cartography. He passed this knowledge on to Waldseemüller.

Based on Vespucci's travelogue Mundus Novus , which the printer Hans Grüninger published in Strasbourg in 1509 , Ringmann and Waldseemüller were the first to take the view that the islands that Columbus discovered were actually called West Indies and viewed as islands offshore India and Asia represented a new, unknown continent in the ocean. As already mentioned in Hylacomylus , they saw Vespucci as the true discoverer of the continent, as he had explored the coast in detail and described it. At the suggestion of Ringmann, Waldseemüller entered the name "America" for the new land mass in honor of Vespucci . (Whether this happened with or without Vespucci's knowledge, could not be definitively clarified.) He feminized Vespucci's first name for it, a common practice, since the names of all continents known at the time - Europe, Asia (= Asia) and Africa - also have a feminine ending possessed.

After Waldseemüller's death, Grüninger published his maps in a reduced form with an explanatory booklet by Lorenz Fries , which was reprinted several times from 1525 to 1530 and made a significant contribution to the establishment of the continent name "America".

Detail of the Waldseemüller map showing Amerigo Vespucci next to the eastern hemisphere of the world with the new continent


The twelve individual parts of the card, four in length and three in width, are each up to 46 centimeters wide and up to 62 centimeters long. Overall, the card is 128 × 233 cm in size. The companion volume Cosmographiae Introductio , which explained the cartographic knowledge of the time , belonged to the globe . The globe segment map is centered on Europe and designed as an equal-area cone projection so that the meridians are curved. At the North Pole there are two more small representations of the western and eastern hemisphere . This makes it particularly clear that the new continent does not border Asia, but lies separately in the sea. On the western hemisphere is Claudius Ptolemy , on the eastern hemisphere Vespucci. This is to make it clear that this map connects the old knowledge with the new.


About 1,000 copies of the card were printed and sent to well-known merchants, nobles and clergy.


The importance of the map for the science of that time and its worldview was great. If it was initially rejected by conservative circles, it was soon accepted by scientists and like-minded people. They were seen as the yardstick by which other cartographers had to act.

Rediscovery and today's situation

Facsimile of the Waldseemüller card in the Library of Congress (2007)
Title page of the accompanying booklet Cosmographiae introductio

According to current research, there is only one copy of the map, which was once widespread in print. It originally belonged to Johannes Schöner , a Nuremberg scientist of the 15th and 16th centuries. In 1836 Alexander von Humboldt wrote that he had found "the name of the mysterious man" who "first proposed the name America to designate the new continent". In 1901 the piece was rediscovered by Josef Fischer SJ., The later famous historical cartographer Joseph Fischer (geographer) , at Wolfegg Castle in Upper Swabia. It was first published in 1903 by him together with Franz Ritter von Wieser (Vienna). For decades, the Library of Congress in Washington DC tried to acquire the well-preserved piece, but it remained in the possession of the Haus zu Waldburg-Wolfegg and Waldsee for a century - and was not accessible to the public because the security precautions would have been too complex and even state institutions in Germany did not want to and could not bear such costs. On June 27, 2001, the head of the house, Johannes zu Waldburg-Wolfegg , sold the card. His statement on 18 November 2007 as part of the series of talks and Coronets in Stuttgart's Haus der Geschichte Baden-Wuerttemberg , according to 10 million were US dollar spent. That is the highest price that has ever been paid for a cartographic good.

During the sale - accompanied by public criticism - the export protection for nationally valuable cultural property in accordance with the Cultural Property Protection Act (Germany) was lifted by a special permit from the Federal Republic of Germany and the State of Baden-Württemberg . Gerhard Schröder had personally advocated an exception. The symbolic handover took place on April 30, 2007 by the Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany Angela Merkel in the course of a ceremonial ceremony in the Library of Congress , Washington, DC In her speech, the Chancellor emphasized that the United States' merits for German post-war development the decisive factor for handing over the Waldseemüller map to the Library of Congress as a sign of transatlantic solidarity and as a reference to the numerous German roots of the USA. Among the guests at the handover ceremony was next to the majority leader of the Democrats in the House of Representatives , Steny Hoyer , John also to Waldburg-Wolfegg, the seller of the card. In 2005 the map was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO .

A facsimile was displayed in the Library of Congress in the Treasures exhibition until 2007 , after which the original was made available to the public. The card is in a special air-conditioned showcase designed to slow down the aging process of the print. Another 1½ million dollars were invested in the appropriate presentation of the card.

On the Waldburg , the house castle of the princely family, a facsimile is shown that was made after the original Waldseemüller map was found in 1901. The castle houses a museum and is open to the public from April to October.


In the same year, Waldseemüller's client Matthias Ringmann wrote the Cosmographiae introductio ( German  introduction to cosmography ). In this book he attributed the main discovery of the "New World" to Amerigo Vespucci after studying his letters to Lorenzo de Medici . He justified the naming as follows:

“Now in truth these parts of the new world were specially explored and another part of Americus Vesputius was discovered […] and it is hard to see why anyone should forbid naming the new land Amerige, land of Americus, after its discoverer Americus, a particularly astute man, or America, since both Europe and Asia have their names from women [...] "


The terrestrial globe segment map from 1507
Comparison between globe map and actual geographic location

The terrestrial globe was published at the same time as the map and the inscription Cosmographiae introductio 1507 and is also addressed in the name of the project. Like the map, it showed America as a new continent.

It was published as a segment map that can be folded into a globe. Few of the globe segment maps produced in 1507 are known to have survived that are now regarded as originals: One was discovered in 1993 in the holdings of the Historical Library Offenburg . Two other copies are kept in the USA. The Prince of Liechtenstein sold one copy in 1954 to the James Ford Bell Library at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis , while the other was auctioned by Christie's in 2005 for one million US dollars . This map later turned out to be a forgery of the 20th century based on the map of the University of Minnesota - just like a copy that was acquired by the Bavarian State Library for DM 2 million at the time and sold by the widow of the renowned art dealer Hans Peter Kraus Century out.

In 2012, another copy was found in the Munich University Library that differs slightly from the four previously known copies. Its origin is estimated to be "probably some time after the first printing in 1507". Waldseemüller's globe segment map was found in a geometry book; Bound as an anthology in the 19th century and stored in the university's collection, as with the other copies, forgery can be excluded. The map is the only one with the indication "Diameter Globi" for the size of the globe, the positions of individual countries differ. The watermark on the paper indicates that the card was printed just under a decade after the first.

World map from 1513

After Ringmann's death, Waldseemüller deviated from his own ideas and apparently no longer believed that America was a continent of its own. In a new map, which he created in 1513, he therefore again referred to it as Terra incognita (German: unknown land ). However, the name America was so widespread and widely accepted that the public kept it as the name of the "New World".

Combined sheets of the Carta Marina by Martin Waldseemüller, 1516

Maritime World Map from 1516

With his map of the world from 1516, a nautical chart , there is another work, the original of which is spread over 12 sheets. It is characterized by its straight line representation with a horizontal and vertical axis scale and also uses a set of auxiliary lines with 16 centers on a circular line and a center point, so that it is extremely similar to the Caveri map from 1506. The degree of decorative design appears somewhat reduced compared to his map from 1507.

Carta itineraria europae 1520

Map of Europe from 1520

Waldseemüller began his Carta itineraria europae in 1511 and completed it around 1520. It is a southerly map (labeling partly north) that shows Europe. Furthermore, it shows all the coats of arms of the states and subjects of the German Emperor Charles V at that time and is dedicated to him.


  • Martin Waldseemüller: The Cosmographiae Introductio . Publishing house JH Ed. Heitz, Strasbourg 1907 (in facsimile print edited by Fr. R. von Wieser).
  • The oldest map with the name America from 1507 and the Carta Marina from 1516 by M. Waldseemüller (Ilacomilus). Edited with the support of the Imperial Academy of Sciences in Vienna, by Prof. Jos. Fischer SJ and Prof. Franz Ritter von Wieser. Innsbruck 1903 (publisher of the Wagner'schen Univ.-Buchhandlung) .
  • Fischer, Joseph: Article Waldseemüller in: Catholic Encyclopedia 1913 [CE | ]
  • Franz Ritter von Wieser, Wilhelm Bonacker, Karl-Heinz Meine (Eds.): Explanations of the first printed (street) wall map of Europe, the Carta itineraria Evropae d. Years 1511 and 1520 by Martin Waldseemüller . Kirschbaum Verlag, Bad Godesberg, ISBN 3-7812-0649-1 .
  • Martin Waldseemüller: Tabula nova heremi Helvetiorum . In: Communications of the Geographical-Ethnographic Society . Zurich 1939 (reprint).
  • Andreas Venzke : The 'discoverer of America' - the rise and fall of Christopher Columbus . Zurich 1991, ISBN 3-545-34091-0 .
  • Stefan Zweig : Amerigo, the story of a historical error . Fischer-Verlag, Frankfurt a. M. 1989, ISBN 3-596-29241-7 (About the appointment of America to Amerígo Vespucci by Martin Waldseemüller April 25, 1507, first edition: Fischer-Verlag, Stockholm, 1944 (posthumously)).
  • Petra Gabriel : The cartographer . 1st edition. Knecht Verlag, Frankfurt 2006, ISBN 3-7820-0893-6 (A novel about the creation of the Waldseemüller world map).
  • Wolfgang M. Gall: Martin Waldseemüller - life and work . In: Department of Culture of the City of Offenburg (Hrsg.): New World & Old Knowledge. How America got its name. Book accompanying the exhibition . Offenburg 2006, ISBN 3-937295-64-X .
  • Ute Obhof: The terrestrial globe that named America - the tradition of the globe segments by Martin Waldseemüller from 1507 . In: Department of Culture of the City of Offenburg (Hrsg.): New World & Old Knowledge. America got its name. Book accompanying the exhibition . Offenburg 2006, ISBN 3-937295-64-X .
  • Jakob FranckHylacomylus, Martin . In: Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie (ADB). Volume 13, Duncker & Humblot, Leipzig 1881, p. 488 f.
  • Franz Laubenberger: Ringmann or Waldseemüller? In: Archives for Scientific Geography, vol. XIII . Bonn 1959, ISBN 3-937295-64-X .
  • Walter Preker: Martin Waldseemüller . In: Peter Kalchthaler, Walter Preker (Hrsg.): Freiburg Biographies . Freiburg i. Br. 2002, p. 68 f .
  • Toby Lester : The fourth continent. How a map changed the world. Translated by Klaus Binder and Bernd Leineweber. Berlin-Verlag, Berlin 2010, ISBN 978-3-8270-0732-2 .
  • Martin Lehmann: Matthias Ringmann's "Cosmographiae Introductio" and Martin Waldseemüller's world map from 1507. Meidenbauer-Verlag, Munich 2010.
  • Martin Lehmann: Amerigo Vespucci and his alleged awareness of America as a separate landmass. In: Imago Mundi. 65: 1, 2013.
  • Martin Lehmann: The depiction of America on Martin Waldseemüller's world map from 1507 - Humanistic geography in the service of political propaganda. In: Cogent Arts and Humanities. 3 (1), 2016. online
  • Martin Lehmann. The "Carta marina" of Martin Waldseemüler from 1516 - Political geography in context of the struggle for the spices of Southeast India. In: Cogent Arts and Humanities. 7 (1), 2020. online

Web links

Commons : Martin Waldseemüller  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. a b Jörg Czybulka: He was an early citizen of Schallstadt and by no means a Freiburg citizen , opinion, letters to the editor , Badische Zeitung , July 11, 2012 (August 7, 2012)
  2. Martin Lehmann: The Cosmographiae Introductio Matthias Ringmann and Martin Waldseemüller's world map from 1507. A milestone in early modern cartography. Dissertation, Freiburg 2010. Quoted from: uni'leben. University of Freiburg newspaper. ISSN  0947-1251 , 02/2010, p. 8 ( online ( memento of the original from April 26, 2016 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link has been inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. ). @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  3. 1507 St. Didel (Lorraine): The cartographer Martin Waldseemüller… ( Memento of the original of April 24, 2016 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was automatically inserted and not yet checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. ( Flash ; 75 kB) [1]  ( Page no longer available , search in web archivesInfo: The link was automatically marked as defective. Please check the link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / 2Template: Dead Link /  
  4. Lorenz Fries : Laying out the Mercarthen or Cartha Marina . Therefore one may see what [where] one is in the world, and what [where] is every land, water and state. Find all that in the Büchlin ze [u]. Strasbourg 1527, digitized version (1527)
  5. a b GEO Magazin , 01/2008, p. 124.
  6. The oldest map with the name America from 1507 etc. Innsbruck 1903
  7. Waldseemüller map. Retrieved August 31, 2017 .
  8. a b Famous map series discovered. Variant of America's "birth certificate" in the UB ( Memento of the original from July 6, 2012 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. , LMU Munich, June 22, 2012, digitized . @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  9. Bayerische Staatsbibliothek confirms own "Waldseemüller" globe segments as forgery ,, accessed on February 16, 2018
  10., July 3, 2012: Ancient world map surfaced in Munich
  11. Treasure of maps discovered in Munich University Library - handicraft sheets for the nobility (interview with the finder, July 3, 2012)
  12. Christoph von Eichhorn: Martin Waldseemüller, the inventor of America. Retrieved March 26, 2020 .