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The first printed map to show the world as a sphere

[Map of the World].
DÜRER, Albrecht; STABIUS, Johannus; and BARTSCH, Adam Von
Editum ex Tabula lignea ab Alberto Durer incisa, quae in Bbliotheca Aug. Vindob. extat.,
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Map - 655 by 857mm (25.75 by 33.75 inches).


Woodblock map printed from four blocks on two sheets joined, watermark of crowned escutcheon with inscription 'WOLFEG' below, a few minor tears skilfully repaired.


Dürer's striking two sheet world map, the "first known printed map to show the earth as a sphere" (Dackerman)

Although not signed by Dürer, it is most certainly the work of the artist. The map was produced in collaboration with Johann Stabius, the court astronomer to Maximillian I. The pair had previously worked upon a set of star charts - the first printed charts of the heavens - which also bear the date 1515. It is hard not to assume that these two works were meant as companion pieces. With the world map's attempt to render the globular world as a flat sphere, the pieces certainly bear a uniformity of design. The map features are essentially Ptolemaic, with Europe and East Asia appearing on the extreme left and right of the map. The only nod to modernity is the acknowledgement of the circumnavigation of Africa, which was most likely taken from Martin Behaim's globe of 1492. Behaim's globe known as the 'Erdapfel' (earth-apple), was the first known representation of the earth as as a free standing, three-dimensional sphere. The work was well known to both Stabius and Dürer, as it was housed in the Nuremberg Rathaus until 1531.

"Dürer's creation of the illusion of three-dimensionality enlivens this image. Zones of shading at the top are suggested where the graticule narrows, and the distortion at the edges of the globe increases the illusion of a 360-degree sphere. Even the placement of the twelve winds creates a sense of movement. Unlike the presentation of earlier, flat Ptolemaic planispheres, his representational strategy animates the surface of the globe while its projection imbues it with a new sense of volume." (Dackerman)

To the bottom right is the privilege dated 1515, with the arms of Johann Stabius lower left. The borders also bear the arms of, and dedication to, the work's patron, Cardinal Matthaus Lang, Archbishop of Salzburg.

No extant example of the map survives from the sixteenth century. The blocks for the map (together with 13 other blocks by Dürer) from which these impressions were taken, had been discovered at Castle Ambras in the Tyrol, and the former Jesuit College in Graz, in around 1780. Due to their rarity it was decided to publish a limited edition, in 1781. Joseph Elden von Kurzbeck, the well known publisher, was approached to fund the project, with editing being carried out by Johann Adam von Bartsch. Von Bartsch (1757-1821), a noted scholar and artist, was then in the employ of the Royal Court Library in Vienna - he would later become head curator of the library's print collection.

We are only able to trace seven institutional examples: Herzogin Ann Amalia Biblothek; Staats Bibliothek Zu Berlin; Bibliotheque Nationale De France; Danish Union Catalogue & National Library; British Library; Library of New South Wales, Australia; and Harvard.


Kurth, Dr. Willi, 'The Complete Woodcuts of Albrecht Dürer'. World Map: Kurth 297-298; Shirley 39; 'The World Encompassed' 50, pl. XIII; Nordenskiold, Periplus, pp. 151-152; Dackerman, Susan, 'Prints and the Pursuit of Knowledge in Early Modern Europe' 80, p.332; Meder, watermark 203.