Wednesday 4 July 2018

Waldseemüller and Ringmann

Fünf punkte for guessing that W & R were German (it's the umlaut, silly) but bonus points for knowing for what the deutsches Duo are famous. They were the lead scholars for a conference that was called to a small French town, St-Dié-des-Vosges un 1507. St-Dié was chosen because it was equidistant between Strasbourg | Straßburg | Strossburi; Basel | Bâle | Basilea; and Fribourg-en-Brisgau / Freiburg im Breisgau, major centres of humanist scholarship in Central Western Europe. The purpose of the meeting was to determine everyone's place in the world. Not in a social or economic sense:
But literally . . . cosmographically . . . on a map, like this one
The problem was that data was overturning the cosy certainties of Orbis terrarum Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres with the three continents of Asia, Africa and Europa meeting at Jerusalem the centre of the world.  Think about it: in 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue and landed on an island on the far side of the World, claiming it for his sponsors los reyes católicos Ferdinand (Aragonese: Ferrando, Catalan: Ferran, Basque: Errando, Spanish: Fernando) of Aragon and Isabella (Isabelle, Isabel) of Castille. Columbus himself went to his deathbed believing that he had been fossicking around on the Eastern shores of Asia.  It wasn't until his third voyage in 1498 that Columbus set foot on mainland continental America.

Waldseemüller and Ringmann had to evaluate all the evidence available to their committee of scholars to locate these new territories . . . and label them. The doctrine of priority was strong in the world of exploration and geography and W & R & Co. had to hand a letter from Amerigo Vespucci, hereinafter called the Wily Florentine, to his sponsor claiming that he'd made a short walk on the Brazilian foreshore in 1497. Accordingly they wrote America in a big sprawl on the hinterland of the Brazilian coast. Their findings were written up and printed as a heavy Latin tome Cosmographiae Introductio, a huge 1400mm x 2400mm map in 12 tiles and a handy kit for making a spherical globe [which see above]. They printed 1,000 copies of their flat map and these were widely distributed across Europe and presumably taken off to sea on subsequent voyages of discovery. Laws of priority applying, subsequent maps applied the name, not only to Brazil but to the whole new super-continent.  That's sort of appropriate to think about on this The Fourth of July.

Those 1000 copies of the mighty map were used and used and worn out and soaked in sea-water and frittered and used as wrapping paper until they could not be found anywhere. The sole surviving copy was found in 1901 in the library Wolfegg Castle in Germany and purchased by the US Library of Congress for a fabulous sum in 2003. A copy of the smaller map in 'gores' or segments for wrapping round a globe was found in another book in 2012 during a recataloguing exercise in the library of Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München. Always have a riffle through books before you sent them to the charity shop: you might find treasure.

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