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Münster Legend

Depicting the Cities of Germany and the World

In 1550 the German cosmographer Sebastian Münster published his famous Cosmographia in Basel. This landmark description of the world in text, images, and maps was the first cosmography to contain a series of views of cities of the world. To obtain these views Münster asked numerous kings, princes, and city councils for drawings of their cities, accompanied by a printing fee to support their publication in woodcut. Only German rulers answered his request and Münster had to depict foreign views with copies of existing prints. The German views, neatly covering the German-speaking lands of the Holy Roman Empire, are depicted in the map above. The Cosmographia’s production process is unprecedented as earlier publications of similar encyclopedic scope were solely financed by their publishers. This process evidences a unique alignment of the diverse interests of Münster, his printer, craftsmen and patrons along a collective German identity.

The cities that Münster did not depict are also of interest. Münster depicted cities whose governments did not support his work with patronage with generic woodcuts that were reused throughout the book (see below). Examples are the cities of Strasbourg, Mainz and Braunschweig, which are all represented by the same small woodcut. The generic depiction of Strasbourg is especially striking since Münster’s woodcutters worked in this city. Münster himself could have easily commissioned a local artist on one of his business trips. Patronage is thus extremely important for the production of the views in the Cosmographia and we cannot understand these views without understanding the motives of Münster’s patrons.

Generic view of Strasbourg

Artworks are in the public domain. Most images of city views used with permission from the site historic cities. All other content of this page, including maps and original illustrations, is Copyright © Jasper van Putten, 2014, All Rights Reserved, and should not be used without permission.