WALDSEEMÜLLER, Martin


WALDSEEMÜLLER, Martin
(1470-1518)
Martin Waldseemüller, a mapmaker, book publisher, and canon of the Church of St. Die in Lorraine, coined the term "America" as the name for the "New World" to honor, erroneously, the Italian navigator Amerigo Vespucci as its "discoverer." In 1507 Waldseemüller both printed the first world map, a wood­cut, to incorporate "America" and published his Cosmographiae introductio with purported accounts of Vespucci's four voyages. He produced another edition of his map in 1513 that updated its portrayal of the American coastline and dropped "America," supporting instead Columbus's prior claim to "discovery." However, the term had already caught on.
Waldseemüller's quite large (fifty-three by ninety-four inches) and famous map remained the basis for western European perceptions of the world for ap­proximately the next thirty years. Using the latest reports from Spanish and Portuguese voyages, he was able to depict the "New World" in two separate parts that identified all the sightings that had been made from Labrador to Ar­gentina. He also provided a reasonably detailed picture of Africa. But Waldsee-mu'ller's maps were, by design, reprints of Ptolemy's Geographia. Thus he grossly overextended Asia eastwards and perpetuated Ptolemy's conical projec­tion of landmasses. As a result, the portrayal here of northern latitudes, a prob­lem generated by the curvature of the earth, is, from a modern standpoint, hopelessly distorted. Subsequently, in his Carta marina navigatoria Portugallen, Waldseemüller adopted the newly prevalent view of the world and brought the eastern boundary of Asia more into accord with today's knowledge. Waldseemuller's Cosmographiae introductio was likewise linked to the learn­ing of antiquity. Its earth, like Aristotle's, consisted of evenly balanced frigid, temperate, and torrid zones. Waldseemüller was aware of the geographical changes brought about by discovery, but he apparently did not grasp the intel­lectual and social ramifications of a "New World."
Bibliography
N.J.W. Thrower, Maps and Civilization, 2nd ed., 1999.
M. Waldseemüller, Cosmographiae introductio, 1507; trans. J. Fischer, 1907.
Louis Roper

Renaissance and Reformation 1500-1620: A Biographical Dictionary. . 2001.

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