Slife #245

TITLE: Walsperger's World Map
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 to north.

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 its true
width, because it had been heard of by Columbus and other explorers from the
aborigines; in the pre-Columbian series, the union of the peninsula with Asia is
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 its rivers.

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 Tail.

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 report.

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, 131-134.


Index of Late Medieval Maps