Vienna: Johannes Singrenius for Lucas Alantse, 1520, Folio (300 x 220mm). Fine folding cordiform woodcut world map by Petrus Apianus, (woodcut title-page borders, historiated initials, printer’s mark, 18th century full calf gilt.
This work has the celebrated and EARLIEST OBTAINABLE MAP TO NAME “AMERICA”. The world map prepared by Peter Apian is preceded in naming “America” only by and modeled on the large 1507 wall map by Waldseemüller, of which only one example is known.
The “Polyhistora” of Solinus was first printed in Venice in 1473, but this is the first edition with the Apian map and American interest.
The map ‘Tipus Orbis Universalis Iuxta Ptolomei Cosmographi Traditionem Et Americi Vespucii’ has North and South America represented as narrow strips of land separated by a wide channel. The northern continent is called merely “Terra incognita,” but the southern has the inscription: “Anno d 1497 haec terra cum adiacetib, insulis inuenta est per Columbum Ianuensem ex mandato regis Castellae America puincia.”
This is Joannes Camers’s edition of the Polyhistor, an ancient treatise on natural history by Caius Julius Solinus (flourished ca. 250 AD). After Ptolemy, Solinus was the classical authority whose writings most strongly inspired Renaissance geographical thought.
Apianus’ map played a crucial role in the remarkable story of the ultimate acceptance of a form of Amerigo Vespucci’s name for the New World. Martin Waldseemuller first suggested the use of the term “America” in his pamphlet Cosmographiae Introductio in 1507, and in the same year, produced a wall map of the world bearing the name. The map was for centuries only known in legend, until a copy was discovered in Wolfegg Castle in Germany at the end of the 19th century.** Remarkably, “America” would not appear on a printed map again until Petrus Apianus published this map in 1520. Fittingly, Apianus’ map is a reduced version of the Waldseemuller great wall map of 1507. So not only is Apianus’ map the earliest collectible one with the name “America” on it, but it also provides one with the only opportunity to possess a form of the 1507 Waldseemuller map. Even Waldseemuller’s own 1513 atlas map of the world is a far different and cruder production. As Amerigo Vespucci’s achievements became more suspect, Waldseemuller retreated from his use of “America” for the New World. For example, his later wall map of the world of 1516, the Carta Marina, did not have the term, nor did his 1513 atlas maps of America and the world. Hence, when Apianus’s map appeared, “America” as a place name was about to fade from use. Since Apianus was a highly regarded scholar and teacher, his map can fairly be said to have reinstated “America” as the place name. An interesting element of this story is that Laurent Fries was a pupil of Apianus and is believed to have been the woodcutter of this map; his initials appear at the lower right.
Fries would go on to publish his own edition of Waldseemuller’s atlas in 1522, and one of the world maps in this edition would indeed include the name “America,” no doubt influenced by this map. To note in passing, although the use of a form of Vespucci’s name for the Western Hemisphere has always been bemoaned as a cruel injustice to Columbus, it is not without a rationale.
Although there is some uncertainty on this point, Columbus appears to have believed to his dying day that what he had discovered was part of the East Indies and not a truly New World. Vespucci, on the other hand, did practically from the first insist that he had found a new continent. So, in a sense Vespucci was awarded by posterity for the correctness of this perception, while Columbus was denied greater glory for his discovery due to his misinterpretation of it.
Although Apianus’ map is modeled almost exactly after Waldseemuller’s, there is a quite startling difference in their depictions of South America. On the Waldseemuller, the southern portion of the continent is not shown. As would be consistent with geographical notions of the time, the presumption embodied in this map was that South America merged with the enormous Southern Continent, then believed to exist. Apianus, however, clearly terminated the southern limit of South America well above the south polar regions. The mysterious part of this is that such a conception of South America was made possible by Magellan’s voyage around the continent through the straits named after him. Magellan, however, was still under sail when this map was published. The explanation may lie in the fact that Apianus was working from a medieval geographic model that insisted on a balance of landmasses in the world. With this change made by Apianus, the southern extremes of South America and Africa now correspond.
**This map was acquired by the Library of Congress in 2003 for ten million dollars after a century-long struggle to obtain it. References: Shirley 45; Nordenskiold, Facsimile Atlas pp. 6-7, 88, 99, 101, 112, pl.xxxvii; The World Encompassed, #61, pl.xxiii.