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Martin Waldseemuller map of Africa

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Series : Navigation and Geography
Year : 1513
Unique ID : gc.02.0001
Authors : Lorenz Fries after Martin Waldseemuller
Issued : Lyon, France
Edition : 1541
Area shown : southern Africa

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Tabula noua partis Africæ. This is an imaginative and decorative revision of Martin Waldseemüller’s (1470-1521) 1513 map, which was the first separately printed map of southern Africa. Waldseemüller was the most influential geographer of the early 16th century, famous as the man who named “America.” His 1513 edition of Ptolemy, produced with two Alsace-Lorraine friends, included an additional twenty “modern” maps and is thus regarded as the first modern Ptolemy atlas. Better known as a writer on medical topics, Fries seems to have worked from about 1520 to 1525 as an editor on the cartographic corpus created by Waldseemüller. Fries’ rendering introduces a number of embellishments. The coastline is full of names given by the Portuguese, but what was Waldseemüller’s empty interior is now occupied by anonymous mountains, a lake, Sapha (from which three rivers radiate), three seated rulers, an elephant, a cockatrice and two snakes. The cockatrice (or basilisk), depicted here as a giant rooster with a lizard-like tail, was a legendary creature able to turn people into stone with its glance, its touch, or its breath. The Latin text adjacent to the creature states that basilisks live under the mountains in this part of Africa and because of them the area is like a desert. Although today’s Kalahari Desert is in that general area (but further south), the placement is coincidental; most likely Fries misinterpreted ideas associated with the Sahara region in the north. He also ignores earlier references to a Sacaff or Saaph lake that relate it to the Nile and put it in Abyssinia (Ethiopia). He does show the Mountains of the Moon (Mone Lune) as the source of the Nile. In the lower right corner, the king of Portugal (Emanuelis Regis), bearing the royal banner of Portugal and a scepter, rides a bridled sea monster. Reigning from 1495 to 1521, Manuel I (“the Fortunate”) occupied the throne during the great expansion of Portugal’s mercantile empire. It was during his reign that Vasco da Gama discovered the route to India — toward which the figure on the map heads.

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