Typus Cosmographicus Universalis (World Map)
Black and white woodcut map of the world.Full description »
Black and white woodcut map of the world. One of the museum founders, Dallas Pratt, was delighted to acquire this world map by Sebastian Münster, not because it reveals new geographical discoveries – it is somewhat outdated – but because of its illustrative border, thought to be by Hans Holbein the Younger. Pratt was especially amused by the pair of cherubs at each pole, cranking the earth around on its axis.
In May 1972 Pratt wrote an article for 'Columbia Library Columns' under the title ‘Angel-Motors’, in which he traced the evolution of the idea of the earth revolving around its own axis, propelled by heavenly beings in one form or another. Beginning with Plato’s ‘Myth of Er’ ('Republic', Book X), in which the stars and planets are turned on a spindle moved by the three Fates, Pratt traced the evolution of cosmic movers, from neo-Platonic ‘emanations’ to the more familiar form of angels conveying virtuous souls to heaven. Aware of the potential impact of postulating a heliocentric earth revolving on its axis, Copernicus did not agree to publish his 'De Revolutionibus' until just before his death in 1543, but for years previously he had allowed friends to have access to a summary. Dallas Pratt believed that Münster had got wind of this new theory of the earth’s rotation, humorously presenting it powered by two cherubs using crank handles at the North and South Poles to turn the world.
In each corner Holbein has illustrated the four known continents: Africa has an elephant and a winged serpent; Asia, the land of spices (‘piper’ and ‘muscata’), has hunters with bows in Tartar headgear; in America the usual cannibal feast is under way; and the Italian traveller Varthema is shown entering Europe, where a man is about to club a goat beside a classical temple. Not to be outdone, Münster has included dolphins, a galleon, a sea monster and a mermaid on the seas of his world map.