Cosmographia, das ist: Beschreibung der gantzen Welt: darinnen aller Monarchien Keyserthumben Königreichen Fürstenthumben Graff- und Herrschafften Länderen Stätten und Gemeinden; wie auch aller geistlichen Stifften Bisthumben Abteyen Klöstern Ursprung Regiment Reichthumb Gewalt und Macht Verenderung Auff- und Abnehmen zu Fried- und Kriegszeiten sampt aller ubrigen Beschaffenheit...

Basel: [Sebastian Henricpetri], 1628.

A fine copy, untouched in a contemporary binding, of the last German edition of the Cosmography, “the first modern” work of geography (Hodgen, p. 506). This, the most extensive of all the editions of Münster’s great work, contains 68 maps and plans published here for the first time. Münster was a cartographer, historian, and linguist who combined his expertise to create this tour-de-force work, which “brought all the empires of man into a single meaningful progression … [and] this single thread of history he married to geography, so that each should mirror and illuminate the other” (McLean). “Münster’s first major contribution to geography dates from 1540, the year of the publication of his Latin translation of Ptolemy’s Geography, illustrated with maps of his own design. Having addressed an appeal in 1528 ‘to all lovers of the joyful art of geography to help him in a true and correct description of the German nation,’ he spent fifteen years collecting up-to-date information on Germany and adjacent lands and in 1544 published his most important work, Cosmographei, ‘a description of the whole world and everything in it.’ This book set a new standard in the field, diverging widely from such earlier works as Gregor Reisch’s Margarita philosophica (1496) and following both a regional and an encyclopedic approach. The work ran to 660 pages in the first edition and to nearly twice as many in later editions; its most valuable parts are those dealing with Germany and Central Europe, as well as the illustrations and maps, the latter drawn by Münster himself … The Cosmographei was among the most popular treatises of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries: forty-six editions, in six languages, were published prior to 1650” (DSB). “To the historian of ideas, Münster’s Cosmography is a great and lasting interest. Although written so long after the earliest exploration, it reproduces the vast and credulous wonder of the pre-Columbian European mentality, and some of the mediaeval folklore, still current concerning strange and distant, peoples” (Hodgen, p. 528). Although this book appears with some regularity on the market, complete copies in such fine condition as ours are rare.

Provenance: Johann Hermann (1738-1800), French naturalist and doctor (Bibliotheca Hermanniana inscription on flyleaf). In 1769 he was appointed professor of medicine at the School of Public Health of Strasbourg, then, in 1778, professor of philosophy, before going on, in 1784, to succeed Jacob Reinbold Spielmann as chair of chemistry, natural history and materia medica. In 1794 he became professor of botany and materia medica in the new School of Medicine. He was the author of Tabula affinitatum animalium (1783) and Observationes zoologicae quibus novae complures, published posthumously in 1804. His collections and library of 18,000 volumes formed the basis of the Natural History Museum of Strasbourg, where a reconstruction of his natural history cabinet was opened in 1988.

“The theologian and cosmographer Sebastian Münster was born as the son of a farmer and hospital master in Ingelheim in 1489. In 1505 Münster became a Franciscan monk and studied philosophy and theology at the university of the order in Heidelberg. In 1507 he continued his education in Löwen, where he studied mathematics, geography and astronomy. After a transfer to Freiburg, he also began to study Hebrew, which he continued after entering the St. Katharina monastery in Rouffach/Alsace in 1509. In 1512 Sebastian Münster was ordained as a priest in Pforzheim. From 1514 to 1518 he taught as a lecturer of philosophy and theology at the university of his order in Tübingen and conducted astronomical-mathematical and geographical studies. His most important teacher was Johannes Stöffler (1452-1531). After Münster moved to Basel in 1518, he published his first text, a survey of Hebrew grammar Epitome Hebraicae Grammaticae, which was one of the first ever language books on Hebrew published in Germany. From 1521 to 1529 Münster worked and taught in Heidelberg, published numerous Hebrew texts and wrote the first books written in Aramaic ever to be published in Germany. In 1529 Sebastian Münster converted to reformation and took over the chair of Hebrew at the university of Basel, where reformation had just been established. A little later he married the widow of a book printer; Münster's stepson Heinrich Petri from then on published most of his books. In 1534-35 Sebastian Münster finally published his main work in Hebrew, which met with international acclaim: a two-volume edition of the Old Testament ‘Biblia Hebraica’ with a Latin translation and annotations. Münster died in Basel in 1552” (https://www.sebastian-muenster.com/).

“Münster’s purpose in compiling the Cosmography may be variously stated, depending upon whether his own reason for engaging in the work be accept it as final, or whether the book itself, its structure and content, be submitted in evidence. Never too involved in mathematical and geographical problems to tell a salty story (many of which were repeated again and again by such admirers as Montaigne and Burton), Münster set out not only to edify but to entertain, thus perpetuating in the sixteenth century, one of the most characteristic features of the mediaeval encyclopedias …

“The study of cosmography was in favor because it was useful to the learned professions. Did the theologian wish to interpret scripture with greater topographical accuracy; did Bible readers in town and village desire greater knowledge of the land of Palestine, its place names, and its peoples, ancient and modern? If so, then the cosmographer stood ready to give him a chapter on the Creation, brought somewhat up-to-date with sections on the divisions of the seas, the sources of rivers, the internal fires of the Earth, its mines and so forth, together with a section on the history of the Jews and the geography of the Holy Land. Did the physician desire information concerning weather phenomena and its relation to disease; concerning the properties of exotic drugs and herbs? Then such could be found in Münster’s pages. Or did the moral philosopher seek to view his own people, their customs and habits, in contrast with others? Then it became the function of the cosmographer to engage in social inquiry: to consider the locations of the various peoples, to collect information concerning the variety of man’s habitats and his responses to them; to disclose the variety in man’s institutions, and especially the diversity in their religions which, usually misunderstood or misrepresented, was disconcerting to the learned and disturbing to the devout …

“The Cosmography is divided into six books, of which the third on Germany is far longer than any of the others, and each book is divided into many short chapters and sections, some of which run to no more than a paragraph or two. The first book is opened by a series of maps, which at the time of its publication in the middle of the sixteenth century, were a genuine contribution to cartographical knowledge and technique. These are followed by a brief recapitulation of Ptolemy’s mathematical geography, as known to Münster, ‘brought up to date with some account of the compass as an adjunct to surveying instruments.’ and a brief tracing of the migrations of the chief races of mankind. The remaining books deal systematically with the countries of the world in a specific order, describing not only their geographical features, but the manners and customs of their inhabitants.

“In dealing with ethnography, Münster starts with the Britons in the far west, and then moves eastward across Europe, stopping first to describe the Spaniards, the French and the Italians. Then, turning to Germany and Germany’s northern and eastern neighbors, the Scandinavians and the Slavs. The next cultures considered are those of the near east – Turkey, Asia, Minor, and Palestine, followed by the ancient empires of Assyria, Media, and Persia; the Scythes, Tartarians, and Seres. Finally, as legend. overtakes fact, Minster turns to Africa …

“In this piece of collective portraiture, the reader may count on being informed concerning the boundaries of each country, the derivation of its name, its topographical and political subdivisions, its rivers and mountains, its fertility and agricultural products, its flora and fauna, and its cities. To this will be added for good measure in the description of nearly every country, a list of its crowned heads, princely houses and great lords, its illustrious individuals, its bishoprics and universities …

“But here, and of the greatest importance, one other methodological principle must be noted. The reader of the Cosmography will not be led to consider all of these geographical, political and cultural features of each country statically, or at one time level, as though caught and frozen on the film of an old-fashioned still-camera, but within some kind of a temporal or historical framework … In the preface, for example, there is a strong statement characteristic of the thought of his time in which the author reminds his readers of the value of history to rulers and statesmen. History,, he says, is a record of past experience and should be studied as a guide in contemporary action, or in the formulation of policy … Influenced by these organising ideas, his Cosmography opens with an account of Creation viewed as that primordial change or transfiguration of the physical world from some earlier chaotic condition to a first distribution of lands and sea. This is followed by two sections ending Book One on the mutability of human institutions …

“‘I have written here,’ he says in the conclusion of his Cosmography, ‘of the peoples and nations of the whole world, with their attainments, laws, customs, manners, religions, ceremonies, kingdoms, principalities, trades, antiquities, lands, animals, mountains, rivers, and seas, lakes, and other features’ … As Münster moved from west to east across Europe, Asia and the New World, the manners and customs of some forty or more folk receive scrutiny. In many cases, the descriptions are very brief. The Irish, for example, as first entrants on the scene, were presented in a few words as ‘voyed of hospitalitie, uncivill and cruel, and therefore not unapt for warlike affayres’; while the Catmanians, who followed the usages of the Medes and Persians, were dismissed as users of asses in warfare, because they had no horses, as worshippers of Mars, and as prohibited from marriage until after a groom had presented his King with the head of an enemy. To the Germans, the cosmographer was more generous, and also to the Turks and Tartars. Allotting the whole of Book Three to his own nation, its geographical situation, its government, and history … he earned for his Cosmography, the title of Germanography from Jean Bodin … Strangely enough, it was the Turks and the Tartars, rather than the Germans, who seemed to Münster to call for extended ethnological analysis. Or perhaps it was not so strange after all, for in the world as known to Europeans in the sixteenth century, the fear of the Mongol hordes, and the peril of the Turk, still overshadowed, almost every other claim on attention … But beyond all this, and of great significance to the historians of the ideas which have entered into the scientific study of man’s activities, Münster was early as the sixteenth century shows himself to be engaged avowedly, or by implication, in constant comparison … Given, moreover, Münster’s interest in cultural change and history, it should occasion no surprise to find that comparison, followed by the detection of cultural similarities and differences, was not restricted in the Cosmography to contemporary peoples, or to nations coexisting in the sixteenth century …

“As to Münster’s originality in composing the ethnological descriptions of the peoples of the world, it will have to be said that he possessed none. For whatever the sources of the Cosmography, and however widely he may have read in his Catalogus, there can be a little doubt of his profound indebtedness to one contemporary. This was Johan Boemus (fl. 1500), a fellow German and Hebraicist, whose Omnium gentium mores was published in Augsburg in 1520, only twenty-four years before the appearance of the Cosmography. The purpose of this little book was simple: to collect and compact together the customs of mankind … A comparison of the ethnological sections in the two works suggest with a conclusiveness akin to certainty that when Minster needed a model description of the way of life of some specific group of people, he turned first to his copy of the Omnium gentium mores, and if a description was there available, he copied it, sometimes in whole, sometimes in part. The array of peoples chosen for descriptive treatment in the Cosmography is almost identical with that to be found in the Omnium gentium mores …” (Hodgen).

Burmeister 86; Nordenskiöld collection 2, 159; Sabin 51396. Hodgen, ‘Sebastian Muenster (1489-1552): A Sixteenth-Century Ethnographer,’ Osiris 11 (1954), pp. 504-529. McLean, The Cosmographia of Sebastian Münster: Describing the World in the Reformation, 2007.



Folio (379 x 237 mm). Title printed in red and black. Engraved additional title by Merian, 26 double-page woodcut maps, numerous other woodcuts in-text including many double-page views, one large folding woodcut view (browned, with some spots and stains, closed tear in lower margin of one leaf). Contemporary blindstamped pigskin over wooden boards, brass bosses, clasps, and catchplates, edges blue.

Item #6042

Price: $28,500.00

See all items in Natural History, Geology
See all items by