Martin Waldseemüller was born in approximately 1473, probably in the village of Wolfenweiler, near to Freiburg im Breisgau. He grew up in Freiburg and attended the university there in 1590, where his tutor, Gregor Reisch, was the Confessor to the Emperor Maximilian. Reisch was noted for his philosophical work Margarita Philosophica, which included a world map based on Ptolemy’s work.
After leaving university, Waldseemüller learned the printing trade in Basle before moving to become Professor of Cosmography under the patronage of the Duke of Lorraine, by now living in St Didal. The Duke, Rene II, was fascinated by an account of the recent voyages of Amerigo Vespucci and Waldseemüller, with a friend from university called Matthias Ringman, who wrote the texts, produced a book called Cosmographiae Introductio, with a world map designed to show the new continent of America and those parts of the world unknown to Ptolemy. One thousand copies of the book were published in 1507 and it is on the basis of these maps that Waldseemüller and Ringman are considered to have been responsible for the naming of the new-found continent of ‘America’.
After Ringman’s death, Waldseemüller worked on a new version of Ptolemy’s Geographia, which became the most authoritative and significant work of its time.
Waldseemüller died in 1519.
About this Piece
This highly significant map of the world was originally published in April 1507. The map is based on a modification of Ptolemy's second projection, expanded to accommodate the Americas and the high latitudes. A single copy of the map survives and is housed at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.
This map was designed on a single cordiform, or heart-shaped, projection. Cordiform projections show true distances from a point, e.g. the North Pole, and have in the central part of the projection a greater longitudinal than latitudinal extent.
By the year 1507, geographers had already began to accept that a New World existed and the convention of showing the new and old worlds in two hemispheres was established with the two inset maps included in the top center of the layout. Taken together, this particular map with its inset hemispheres forms the most comprehensive and most nearly correct representation of the world of any known map up to the year of 1507. On both sides of the insets, Waldseemüller has placed stylised portraits of Claudius Ptolemy and Amerigo Vespucci, the explorer, thus appealing to both traditionalists and the keen interests of Europeans in the new discoveries.
The map's most significant feature is that it contains the earliest known use of the word “America” to describe the newly found fourth part of the world. It appears on the southern continent, which is present-day South America.