This circular world map, made by the German Benedictine monk and cartographer Andreas Walsperger (c. 1415 - ? ) in 1448, is a fascinating example of the synthesis of tradition and modernity in fifteenth-century maps. Oriented with the south at the top, the influence of Ptolemy’s theories is notable, and the most recent geographical discoveries are reflected. Nevertheless, we can still see a survival of the traditional medieval representation of the world, not only in the map’s circular format but also in the great number of Christian references and the presence of monstrous races of men in southern Africa, something typical of mappaemundi like the Hereford map.
Enclosed by circles representing the heavenly spheres, the map combines both graphic depictions and explanatory texts to reflect the geographical ideas dominant in fifteenth-century Europe, making this map a unique and very valuable example of late medieval world maps.
Walsperger World Map. A Cartographic View of the Christian World
This world map is made on a single piece of parchment and measures 57,5 x 75 cm. A text that Walsperger wrote below the map explains the sources he used, the most important being Ptolemy’s Geography, as well as its date and place of creation, namely 1448 in Constance.
The map is enclosed by nine circles representing the celestial spheres, and twelve smaller ones representing the zodiacal signs. Also, Walsperger includes twelve semicircles around the map, containing the names of the winds.
The geographical details and explanatory texts are abundant in Walsperger’s world map. Except at its southern edge, the world is surrounded by a green ocean, and an intense red color is used for the Red Sea. Interestingly, colors are used to mark the religious affiliations of some places; thus, the difference between Christianity and Islam is indicated through the colors of the cities: red for Christian cities, black for non-Christian ones.
In the northeastern limits of the world, in the land inhabited by the Biblical peoples Gog and Magog, a cannibal is depicted, showing the savage nature ascribed to those peoples by medieval legends, and also the tendency to locate fables and marvels in distant regions. The Southern Pole is also described as an uninhabitable land, full of monsters and terrifying creatures.
In accordance with the deeply Christian sense of the map, Paradise is represented by a very large and beautiful castle in the Far East, the biggest and most attractive iconographic feature of the map. From this castle flow the four biblical rivers that irrigate the world: Physon, Tigris, Eufrates and Gihon. The Christian tradition adopted in the map is also noticed with the place of Jerusalem, which occupies the center of the space as we can see on other medieval maps.
The synthesis of medieval knowledge and new scientific approaches, like the influence of Ptolemy’s Geography, as well as its abundant graphic and textual information, make Walsperger’s world map one of the most important documents of fifteenth-century European cartography.
Andreas Walsperger. Monk and Cartographer
Little is known about the life of Andreas Walsperger. Born ca. 1415 in Radkesburg (Styria), he became a Benedictine monk in the monastery of St. Peter in Salzburg. His only known work is this world map, created in 1448 in Constance and held in the Vatican Apostolic Library under the shelfmark Pal.lat.1362B.