Martin Waldseemller, Strassburg, 1513: Tabula Terre Nove. Wide margins, strong impression. Original color. Some small wormholes at center, filled and barely discernable. 14 1/2 x 17 1/2 inches.

This is the first printed map specifically devoted to the New World to appear in an atlas. Unlike the earlier and more limited map of Peter Martyr, it charts a continental Atlantic seaboard, showing a continuous coastline stretching from 35° south latitude, where the mouth of the Rio de la Plata lies, to the latitude of the St. Lawrence River in North America. The map forms what appears to be a complete Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Seaboard. Cuba is named Isabella after Queen Isabella of Spain, who more than King Ferdinand, was responsible for the Crown’s acceptance of Columbus proposal early in 1492.

When first published in 1513, six years had elapsed since Waldseemller had coined the name America to denote South America. But here he abandons that term, instead identifying South America as having been discovered by a certain Columbus sent by the King of Spain : Hec terra cum adiacentib insulis inuenta est per Columbus ianuensem ex mandato Regis Castelle (This land with its adjacent islands was discovered by Columbus, sent by the king of Castile).

Waldseemller’s northern coastline is more mysterious, and presents two essential questions: whether it is autonomous or connected to Asia, and whether its geographic features are those of Asia or America. The more common viewpoint is that it is not connected to Asia and that the protruding land just northwest of Cuba is true Florida, the Bimini of Peter Martyr. If so, this would verify European exploration of the peninsula prior to Ponce de Leon, and would also mean, remarkably for the day, that South, Central, and North America were recognized as sharing a continuous coastline as components of a single mammoth continent. But this coastline may not represent North America at all.

The counter argument is that the northern coastline is in fact the Orient, into which some North American data has been incorporated, and that our Florida may have been perceived as a feature of a Southeast Asian landscape. Although Waldseemller had earlier depicted North America as a new land distinct from Asia, in 1516 he produced another map of the world, the geography of which more closely matches the present work, in which he reversed that opinion. On that map our enigmatic North American mainland is labelled Terra de Cuba Asie Partis (Land of Cuba, part of Asia), bowing both to Columbus denial of an insular Cuba and to his early insistence that he had reached the Orient, and demonstrating that our Tabula Terre Nove shows the new discoveries as previously unknown shores of the Orient, rather than as a new world.

Cuba itself ties in with this interpretation. Waldseemllers orientation of the island suggests that it had earlier been connected to his Florida, supporting the view that the peninsula, even if not a true Asian feature, is in any case the vestige of Columbus peninsular (Asian) Cuba, not Ponce de Leons Florida. About the time Waldseemller was preparing our map, Martyr was still allowing this Columbian view of Cuba the benefit of the doubt : the Ilande of Iohanna or Cuba . . . westwarde, it is the beginninge of India beyond the ryver Ganges: And Eastewarde, the furthest ende of the same: which thinge is not contrary to reason for as muche as the Cosmographers have lefte the lymites of India beyonde Ganges undetermyned.

But correlation of the two maps is inconclusive. On the 1516 map, Waldseemller leaves the continuity of the Atlantic coastline ambiguous, while here he shows a virtually continuous coastline down to South America, which was from the outset recognized as a land separate from Asia on maps of this genre. Both the 1516 map and the present 1513 Terra Nove share a somewhat common ancestry with the Cantino Planisphere (manuscript, 1502), which initiated the Florida pattern adopted by this and other maps, but is ambiguous as regards the connection of new discoveries to Asia.

(The following synopsis of Waldseemller and the 1513 Ptolemy is from Karrow)

Although he is probably the most important cartographer of the early sixteenth century, almost nothing is known about Martin Waldseemller’s life. He was born about 1475, most probably in the village of Wolfenweiler (now Schallstadt-Wolfenweiler) near Freiburg im Breisgau. His father, Conrad, moved to Freiburg in 1480 or 1481 to a house at 9/11 Lowenstrasse; he was made a citizen in 1490 and a member of the city council a year later (Gotz 1964). Martin was enrolled at the university in Freiburg on 7 December 1490. One of his classmate, Johann Schott, the future printer of Waldseemller’s edition of Ptolemy, was then thirteen-and-a-half years old, and one may reasonably assume that Waldseemller was about the same age. When his name next appears in a written record, it is seventeen years later, he is living in St. Die, he has Hellenized his name to Ilacomilus, is working on an edition of Ptolemy and is, in the opinion of a contemporary, “the most learned man in these matters.”

In the early sixteenth century St. Die, in the Vosges mountains of eastern France, was home to Rene II, Duke of Lorraine and titular king of Jerusalem, and a place of considerable culture and learning. This atmosphere prevailed thanks to the duke, who possessed a fine library and gave encouragement and support to scholars. One such Group centered around the person of Walter Lud, a canon and secretary to Rene. In some contemporary sources this group is styled “Gymnasium Vosagense,” although it was probably more a loose association of scholars than an actual institution. Among its members were Nicholas Lud (the brother or nephew of Walter), Matthias Ringmann, and Martin Waldseemller.

One of the aims of this group was the production of scholarly books, and to this end the first printing press was installed in St. Die. The press was apparently a joint project of the two Luds and Waldseemller, all of whose initials appear together with the Cross of Lorraine on the device of the press. The press was apparently set up some time after 1505, and some evidence (presented in Harris 1983) suggests that Johann Schott may have been the printer. One ambitious project that Lud had in mind was the printing of a new edition of Ptolemy, and some of the editorial work ad at least been started when the first book from the St. Die press appeared in the spring of 1507

Finally, in 1513, the edition of Ptolemy was finished. As indicated earlier, this edition was intended to be one of the first products of the St. Die press, which may even have been established primarily to produce it. As early as the winter or spring of 1507, Walter Lud wrote from St. Die of “the Ptolemy which-Christ willing-we shall soon publish at our expense, revised with many additions by Martin Ilacomylus, the most learned man in these matters” In the same letter to Johann Amerbach dated 5 April 1507 in which he mentions his globe, Waldseemller also refers to the edition of Ptolemy: “I think you are aware that I am about to print in the town of St. Die the Cosmographia of Ptolemy after revising it and adding some modern maps to it. As the manuscripts do not agree, I beseech you to give me such assistance as do Masters Walter and Nicholas Lud….In the library of the Dominicans in your town (Basel) there is a Greek manuscript of Ptolemy which I deem to be as correct as the original. I beg you to procure by any means possible, either in your name or mine, that I may have this book for the space of a mouth” At almost the same time, Waldseemller wrote in his dedication to the Cosmographiae introdvctio about “collating Ptolemy’s books from a Greek manuscript, by the help of certain persons,” undoubtedly a reference to Ringmann whom we know learned Greek in Paris, although there is no reason to assume that Waldseemller was completely ignorant of the language. He had, after all, chosen for his pen name the punning Greek “Ilacomylus”

We know that Ringmann was familiar with Ptolemy because he refers to Ptolemaic maps in a poem published in 1505. In the fall of 1508 Ringmann made a trip to Italy, where Lilio Gregorio Giraldi gave him a Greek manuscript of Ptolemy to take back to Germany. Thus we see that by 1507 Waldseemller and Ringmann were working on an edition of Ptolemy, Ringmann presumably collating texts and Waldseemller collating maps. They interrupted this work to publish the Cosmographiae introdvctio and the world map and globe that may have been preparatory studies for the new maps to be appended to the Ptolemy. As late as 1509 Lud was still promising the Ptolemy from the St. Die press:”You will soon, Christ willing, see more important works from our printing-house; among them you will be specially pleased with Ptolemy’s Geographia, very diligently corrected from the Greek original and enriched by various additions”. But this was not to be. The press in St. Die issued one more book in 1510 and disappeared. Ringmann died in 1511; Waldseemller himself seems to have dropped out of sight until 1514, when he turned up working as a publisher in Strasbourg. In the meantime, in March 1513, an important edition of Ptolemy had been published by Johann Schott in Strasbourg.