TITLE: Walsperger's World Map
AUTHOR: Andreas Walsperger
DESCRIPTION: This late medieval mappamundi, produced at Constance
in 1448 by Andreas Walsperger, represents a transitional type of cartography
that was beginning to unfold in western Europe before the Renaissance. These
maps are either circular or rectangular and reflect the influence of Claudius
Ptolemy's Geography (i.e., the closed Indian Ocean, a Mediterranean
Sea twenty degrees too long, the Mountains of the Moon, etc.), which
appeared after the introduction and translation of this work to western
Europe in the early 15th century. Some belong to a subgroup of maps called
the Vienna- Klosterneuburg map corpus, the world maps, according
to Durand, which were compiled with the help of coordinates. After its translation
into Latin by Jacobus Angelus about 1406-7, the popularity of the Geography
increased steadily throughout the 15th century, as reflected in the frequency
of printed editions from 1475 onward. One of the earliest world maps showing
such influence by displaying, for example, the closed Indian Ocean of Ptolemy,
is the Pirrus de Noha map accompanying a manuscript of Pomponius
Mela about 1414 (Slide #239).
To understand the Ptolemaic influence, it is necessary first to be aware
of a school of science under the leadership of the mathematician and astronomer
Johannes de Gmunden at the University of Vienna and the prelate Georg Mustinger
at the Augustinian monastery of Klosterneuburg, now in suburban Vienna.
The school flourished from the early 1420s until 1442, when both scholars
died. Its contributions to cartography were but a fraction of its legacy
of scientific manuscripts, including astronomical treatises, star catalogs,
and tables of planetary motions, eclipses, and conjunctions, as well as
general works on mathematics, including trigonometry. Most of these were
recopied versions of earlier medieval works, but nevertheless Klosterneuburg
constituted a seed-bed of scientific innovation. In particular, the maps
and coordinate tables associated with this school help to fill in a period
of relative cartographic obscurity between the Claudius Clavus map of about
1425 and the tabulae modernae of the later Ptolemaic manuscripts
about 1450. Between 1425 and 1430, Mustinger and his collaborators were
working on a map genre that assimilated the Jerusalem-centered medieval
world map with elements from Ptolemy and the portolan charts, which when
reconstructed are similar in their general geographical configuration to
the circular Vesconte-Sanuto maps (Slide #228).
Although only coordinate tables survive for the earliest versions of these
circular world maps of the Vienna-Klosterneuburg school, Durand reconstructed
maps from the tables, most of which are to be found in a 522-page codex
in the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek. There are, however, two surviving original
maps that Durand believes are based on this genre: this one and the Zeitz
map of about 1470 (Slide #251).
This evidence suggests that 15th century cartographers were clearly impressed
with the Ptolemaic model and took pains to demonstrate that, although they
did not agree with all of Ptolemy's information or method of using coordinates,
the tradition was to be revered. Fra Mauro felt it necessary to apologize
for not following the parallels, meridians, and degrees of the Geography
on his world map of 1459, because he found them too confining to show discoveries
(presumably in Asia) unknown to Ptolemy (Slide #249).
Andreas Walsperger, in his mappamundi of 1448, stated "In this
figure is contained a mappa mundi or geometrical description of the world,
made from the cosmography of Ptolemy proportionally according to longitude,
latitude, and the divisions of climate, and with the true and complete chart
for the navigation of the seas". While this map does mark an advance
on other examples of monastic cartography, according to Bagrow and Crone
it fails to reach the standard to which the public of the time was already
accustomed. It had not yet freed itself from the fabulous appurtenances
and the ancient monastic pattern. Thus Walsperger has nothing to do with
the more 'modern' practice as expressed in the portolan [nautical]
charts and continues to show the Caspian Sea as a branch of the ocean. This
attempted fusion of classical and ecclesiastical ideas produces interesting
results. Consider Africa, for example, the western littoral starts off with
a plainly Ptolemaic trend past Hesperidum as far as primum clyma Meroys
(one of Ptolemy's seven Climata ). Here it turns east, past the country
of the Egibani, who boast the form of goats, and that of the Sciapodæ,
conspicuous for the size of their feet. These are the Plinian in parentage.
At this point the coast turns southwards again to the edge of the map, near
which we read the most un-Ptolemaic observation that Around this pole
there are most wonderful creatures, not only beasts, but men indicating
that he has exiled the monstrous races found in Africa on earlier maps to
Antarctica (or actually present-day South America ?, see below). The eastern
prolongation of the continent, extending as far as Java Insula, and
separated from Asia only by a narrow strait, once again brings us back to
the true Ptolemaic tradition, as does the placement of the Nile River in
the heart of Africa.
In 1490 Henricus Martellus Germanus (Slide #256)
developed the second Ptolemaic projection for his world maps and fitted
the new discoveries into it, as did the globe of Martin Behaim (Slide #258).
It has become clear that South America was represented as a huge peninsula
of southeastern Asia on many world maps of the 16th century, from the Zorzi
sketches of 1506 to the Sanuto map of 1574. Some have called this peninsula
The Dragon's Tail, probably in relation to the Chinese Dragon. Of
the representations, the best known are the double cordiform map by Orontius
Finaeus (1531), Schöner's globe (1533), Vopelius' globe (1542) and
the world maps by Giacomo Gastaldi 1562 and by Francesco Basso 1571. On
all of them, the positioning of names such as America, Brasil, Peru,
Castilla del Oro or Tierra de Papagallos is evidence that this Asiatic
peninsula is South America, beyond any possibility of doubt. The cartography
of such maps is very poor: for instance, on the maps of Hieronymo Girava
1556, Johann Honter 1561, Giacomo Gastaldi 1562 and Francesco Basso 1571,
the Rio Amazonas has its source in Patagonia and flows from south
It is not so well known that this very same peninsula existed already under
the name of India Meridionalis on earlier maps, drawn before the arrival
in the western hemisphere of Christopher Columbus. This is the India
which Columbus was looking for, because it was marked in the right place
on his maps. Examples of such maps are those made in Florence and Rome in
1489 by Henricus Martellus (Slide #256). The best
preserved copy is in the British Library and there is also a poorer copy
in the University of Leiden. Martin of Bohemia [Behaim] (Slide
#258) made his globe on the same pattern, but he added much erroneous
information. These maps and the first mentioned group of cartographic documents
differ only in two respects:
1. In the post-Columbian series, the isthmus of Panama is represented with
width, because it had been heard of by Columbus and other explorers from
aborigines; in the pre-Columbian series, the union of the peninsula with
much broader, because nobody had exact information about it.
2. The pre-Magellanic maps have South America extending only to som
degrees South; on post-Magellanic maps the land extends to 53 degrees South.
The common element of both series is the general form of the sub-continent.
However, the Martellus maps show a very good representation of the
South American hydrographic system, including all the great rivers in the
sub-continent. On these pre-Columbian maps, the drainage net is much better
drawn than on any other representation made before 1850. In a former publication,
Gallez identified on those maps the Magdalena River in Columbia; the Orinoco-Meta
in Venezuela; the Amazon, the Tocantins and San Francisco Rivers in Brazil;
the Parana and the Paraguay; the Colorado, Negro and Chubut in Patagonia
(the Chubut is omitted on the Leiden copy); and even the Rio Grande river
in Tierra del Fuego.
A deeper study of the same maps has made possible the identification of
several capes on the Atlantic coast, the swamps of the Rio Negro in Brazil,
and Lake Titicaca. So Gallez believes that the deep and sound European knowledge
of South America before its exploration by Columbus and his Spanish and
Portuguese challengers has been firmly established. Therefore he has established
the criterion for identifying the Dragon's Tail.
There is no record of any voyage made by Europeans to South America before
Columbus. Proto-historians tell of many possible but not proven voyages
by Portuguese navigators towards America; but most of these voyages, told
in detail by James Cortesão, went from the Azores westward; the land
they thought they had seen could be the Antilles or even the Central American
mainland. There is no record extant of anyone reporting that they had seen
any land or island south of the equator, nor did anybody pretend to have
explored the inner part of a trans-Atlantic continent and to have mapped
There was thus no pre-Columbian historical exploration of South America.
But the detail of its hydrographic features mapped by Martellus in 1489
(Slide #256) is a fact, even if this fact remains
historically unexplained. We may thus believe that this knowledge already
existed before Martellus, and we should look at older maps in search of
the sources which he could have had at his disposal.
The earlier maps extant include the so-called mappaemundi drawn by
medieval churchmen in Western Christendom. Very few historians of cartography
have paid attention to the delineation of areas other than of Europe and
Africa; and none of them has commented about the existence of the Dragon's
Tail, and those who have seen it, have dismissed it as 'a nonexistent
peninsula' due to the 'fancy' of the mapmaker. Gallez believes that the
non-recognition of the sphericity of the earth on these mappaemundi was
a definitive hinderance, because in such a flat and circular world, there
seems to be no place for a large and protruding peninsula like the Dragon's
In order to detect this peninsula on pre-Martellus maps, we needed an identifying
criterion. Gallez found that the southeastern Asiatic sequence should be
taken as that criterion. On most maps made between Martellus in 1489 and
Sebastian Munster in1532, we find in the same order from West to East:
(a) India intra Gangem = India Cisgangeoca = Hindustan.
(b) Sinus Cangeocus = Gaggetikos Kolpos = Bay of Bengal.
(c) Aureus Chersonesus = Chryse Chersonesos = Golden Peninsula =
Peninsula of Malacca.
(d) Sinus Magnus = Megas Kolpos = Pacific Ocean.
(e) India Meridionalis = Dragon's Tail = South America.
If we find the same sequence on earlier maps, we will admit that, by comparison
with Martellus' map, the elements of the sequence are identifying themselves
reciprocally, i.e. that each peninsula or bay is identified by its relative
position in the sequence. In this way we have identified the Dragon's
Tail on three maps drawn between 1440 and 1470.
The above mentioned sequence identifies the Dragon's Tail on Walsperger's
Map, made in Constance in 1448. About the author, we know only what
is written on the map:
Facta est hec mappa per manus fratris Andree Walsperger ordinis
Sancti Benedicti de Salisburga Anno Domini 1448 in Constantia.
Walsperger's map has been reproduced and commented on by several historians
of cartography, particularly Almagia and Durand. It was discovered in the
Vatican Library in 1891 by Konrad Kretschmer, who published immediately
a rather long study about it and reproduced the map in his atlas about the
discovery of America. Although he had his mind turned on the new continent,
Kretschmer did not see South America on Walsperger's map. It is a very well
preserved, beautifully colored map, 42.5 cm in diameter. It is bound together
with the Codex Palatinus Latinus 1362B, a series of nautical charts
which seem to have no relation to the world map.
The southern coast of Asia is easy to identify. First there is the Arabian
peninsula and India. Then comes a small, almost square peninsula which bears
the name Aurea Kersonesis, leaving no doubt about its identification.
Then comes a bay with the same position, form and extension, as the Sinus
Magnus on the Martellus map and on Behaim's globe, which
has been identified as the Sinus Magnus. Then comes a huge peninsula
protruding very far to the south which, by its position, form and extension,
is the India Meridionalis, i.e. South America.
The East coast of South America is a part of the circular limit of the world
disc. On its northern sector, i.e. in the Far East of the map, Paradise
is represented as a medieval castle with six towers. This is the place
where Venezuela is situated. When Columbus arrived there in his third trip,
he saw the mouth of the Orinoco. No wonder that, having regard to his maps,
he concluded that this river flowed from Paradise.
In the southernmost part of South America, there are the words, next to
a strait: Hic sunt gigantes pugnantes cum draconious [Here live some
giants who fight against the dragons]. This southernmost part of the American
mainland is Patagonia. The giants are, of course, the Tewelche, the
well-known Patagonian giants. Considering that in 1489 Martellus knew about
the inner courses of many South American rivers, we have no reason to doubt
that, forty years earlier, Walsperger knew of the Patagonians.
Traditionally, the so-called legend of the Patagonian giants is attributed
to Antonio Pigafetta, the chronicler ot Magellan's voyage. As cultured persons,
both Pigafetta and Magellan would have seen such maps as Walsperger's or
others of the same family, and they would surely have taken aboard some
copies of them. They thus knew that, following their maps, they would have
to sail to the south along the coast of the Dragon's Tail until they
reached the Land of Giants, and that at the end of that land, they
would find a passage to the West, to the Sinus Magnus, and thus a
way to the Moluccas. The meeting with the Tewelche in Saint Julian
was the full confirmation, for Magellan and Pigafetta, of what they already
knew from their maps.
The map called Nova Cosmographia per totum arculum dated 1440 by
Durand, and the anonymous Zeitz map dated 1470 by the same author (Slide
#251), belong to the same family as the Walsperger map. They mention
respectively: dy Risen vechten und streiten wider dy lint wurm and
Homines gigantes pugrant cum draconibus. Both maps confirm the fact
that Walsperger's mention of giants in Patagonia was not a fancy of the
cartographer: it was part of the geographical lore of the time.
As for the rest of the world, this map is thoroughly medieval in sentiment.
Fancy runs riot and facts are badly distorted. Two Nilian lakes, Lacus
Meroys and Lacus Affrorum, are given the dimensions of Iberia.
The rivers, four in number, flowing northward from the Atlas Mountains are
each longer than the Elbe and Oder. The stock-in-trade of the theologian
(Walsperger was a Benedictine monk who came from Salzburg) is capitalized
to furnish the author with a Terrestrial Paradise and its usual perquisites.
Jerusalem, in conformity with the popular belief, is placed in the center
of the earth represented by a great Gothic castle. Reflecting some insight
to recent knowledge, the Indian Ocean is not closed but connected by a channel
with the ocean. The island Taperbana [Sri Lanka/Ceylon] is inscribed
the place of pepper, and an unnamed island off the Arabian coast
(perhaps Ormuz or Socotra) has the legend Here pepper is sold. Such
details point to an interest in the spice trade before the Conti-Bracciolini
In the later Middle Ages, explanations of the map painter's intentions are
sometimes found on the map itself, as in the case of this map. Walsperger
explains, for example, his particular system of distinguishing between Christian
and Islamic cities: "The earth is indeed white, the seas of a green
color, the rivers blue, the mountains variegated [brown and/or green], likewise
the red spots are cities of the Christians, the black ones in truth are
the cities of the infidels on land and sea".
LOCATION: Biblioteca Apostalica Vaticana, Rome
Bagrow, L., History of Cartography, p. 70.
Crone, G.R., Maps and their Makers, p. 51.
*Destombes, M., Mappemonde, A.D. 1200-1500, #52.10.
Gallez, P., "Walsperger and his Knowledge of the Patagonian Giants,
1448.", Imago Mundi, pp. 91-93.
*Harley, J.B., The History of Cartography, Volume I, pp. 316, 317, 325,
327, 358, plate 21 (color).
*Kimble, G., Geography of the Middle Ages, pp. 188, 198.
Skelton, et al, The Vinland Map and the Tartar Relation, pp. 113, 118, 127,