Title: Universalior Cogniti Orbis Tabula, Ex recentibus confecta observationibus.

Date: 1507-1508

Author: Johannes Ruysch

Description: In 1507, the copper plates used for the 1490 Rome edition of Ptolemy’s Geographia were reprinted, together with six new maps, either by the printer Bernard Venetus de Vitalibus or the editor Evangelista Tosinus. In addition to the new regional maps, this rare new map of the world by Johann Ruysch is sometimes found in advance of its normal appearance in the Ptolemy atlas the following year. It is not enumerated in the table of contents of the 1507 edition and it must be assumed that Ruysch’s drawing came into the engraver's hands late in the year, just in time to be engraved and inserted into some of the copies then printed. An inscription on the map just off Taprobana refers to the voyages of the Portuguese to that area in the year 1507. This enlarged map of the known world constructed from recent discoveries, engraved on copper, is one of the earliest printed maps showing the discoveries in the new world. There had been many voyages of discovery immediately before Ruysch created his map, including:

Dias’ rounding of the horn of Africa in 1487,

the rediscovery of Newfoundland by John Cabot in 1497 (actually a “rediscovery”, as the Norse had been to Newfoundland centuries before and settled there) ,

Vasco da Gama’s travel to India in 1499,

the explorations of the Caribbean and South America by Columbus (1492-93, 1493-94, 1498, 1502-04) and

visits to the Caribbean and South America by Vespucci (1499, 1501-02).

Although there had been maps created after these voyages, such as Juan de la Cosa’s map of the world in 1500 (based on Columbus’ second voyage, #305) and the Cantino world map (circa 1502, #306), these maps were not widely known in Europe outside of the professional circles of mariners and government officials for up to fifteen years. Only a few copies of these maps survive not simply because they were manuscript rather than printed maps, but also because they were often regarded as state secrets. This situation changed drastically from 1506 to 1507 when three separate efforts to produce world maps were published. The Contarini-Rosselli map of 1506 (#308) and Martin Waldseemüller’s map of the world and globe of 1507 (#310 and #311) were very influential, but not very widely published. There is only one original copy of each map in existence today, and both of these copies were discovered in the 20th century. By contrast, Johannes Ruysch’s 1508 map of the world was much more widely published and many copies were produced and still exist. It therefore had a very large influence.

The oldest printed maps showing America (as opposed to one-of-a-kind “manuscript” or hand-drawn maps) are the world maps of Giovanni Matteo Contarini (#308), the one produced by Martin Waldseemüller (#310) and this map by Ruysch.  While Contarini’s and Waldseemüller’s maps, printed as individual sheets, have fallen victim to the ravages of time, and only a single copy of each is known to have survived, a number of copies of Ruysch’s map, which was printed as a plate in an atlas, are preserved today. While the map is found in some copies of the 1507 edition of Ptolemy’s Geographia, in such cases it is not mentioned on the title-page and it is therefore probable that it was bound into the volume at a later date (the title page of the 1508 edition does announce the new world map; while the Harvard College Library has an original copy of the map, which shows no evidence of having been bound).  This map represents the first “modern” variant of a map of the world in an edition of Ptolemy’s Geographia (Cosmographia).  The fan-shaped conical projection, belonging to the first Ptolemaic projection (#119) suggests that the map may have been taken from Contarini (#308); however, the geographical details indicate a number of differences between the two.

This map by Ruysch first appeared as an addition to the issue of Ptolemy’s Geographia, originally published at Rome in 1507 and 1508, together with a commentary written by an Italian monk named Marcus Beneventanus, under the title of Orbis nouo descriptio. The treatise by Beneventanus is absolutely predicated upon the mappamundi of Ruysch. This must be noted, as it constrains us to limit our interpretation of the geographical configurations and legends to the map itself. Marcus adds nothing whatever as regards facts and data; instead, his treatise is less complete, considering that he fails to mention either Cuba or the continental land which the map exhibits between Newfoundland and South America. It is even doubtful whether the Celestinian monk, or any of the parties engaged in the publication of the Ptolemy of 1507-1508, had any personal intercourse with Ruysch. Otherwise we would certainly find in the elaborate description that Marcus Beneventanus gives of the transatlantic discoveries of the Spaniards and Portuguese, some statement or name that should have been omitted in the map. The few personal details given by the commentator and by Thomas Aucuparius in the preface were most probably conveyed by a letter accompanying the map when it was sent in manuscript from Germany to Rome. According to the historian Henry Harrisse, if Ruysch had supervised the engraving in person, the probability is that the nomenclature would have been entirely in Latin, or according to its original Portuguese form, instead of being so frequently Italianized, as is seen in the pronoun “do”, everywhere written “de”, and in the words Terra secca, C. Glaciato and Capo formoso, which certainly indicate a translation of Portuguese names, made not by a German, but by an Italian, without being errors of the engraver.

Excepting these excerpts, the Orbis nova descriptio of Marcus Beneventanus only contains an exhibition of learning, which is now quite worthless, but which was perhaps necessary, at that time, as an introduction for the new world to her older sisters: Asia, Europe, and Africa. It is at any rate a remarkable fact that every time Beneventanus deigns to descend from his pedestal of learning, he communicates a fact of great importance to the history of geographical discovery. He thus incidentally informs us that the author of this map, which from a geographical point of view marks an epoch in cartography more distinctly than any other that has ever been published in print, had joined in a voyage from England to America. We also learn that Beneventanus had been personally acquainted with “Columbus Nepos”. By this name he probably designates either the illegitimate son of Columbus, Ferdinand, who sojourned in Europe until his 19th year (1509), or rather the brother of Columbus, Bartholomew, who seems to have been an eminent cartographer. For there is an annotation on a copy of: Paesi nouvamente retrovaetc, Vicentia 1507, at the library Magliabechi, stating that Bartholomew, when visiting Rome in 1505, wrote, for a canon of the church of San Giovanni di Laterano, a narrative of the first voyage across the ocean, to which a map of the new discoveries was appended. The canon presented the map to Alessandro Zorzi (#304). This may be a notice respecting the same map, that Marcus Beneventanus had seen with “Columbus Nepos,” and which appears to have been partly copied by Ruysch, whose map consequently may be regarded as a direct illustration of the ideas prevailing in the family of Columbus as to the distribution of the continents and oceans of the globe.

Little is known about Ruysch. Johannes Ruysch was born around the year 1460 in Utrecht, which is now located in the Netherlands. He died in the year 1533 at the St. Martin monastery. His name is alternatively spelled as Giovanni Ruisch or Johann Ruijsch. It is thought (see the Beneventanus commentary below) that he accompanied John Cabot on his expedition to North America in 1497 and 1498, or, considering the prevalence of Portuguese names on his 1507 map, a Portuguese ship leaving from Bristol. Therefore he may have drawn parts of his map from first-hand observation. His other sources include: Ptolemy; travel accounts, like those of Marco Polo; recent world maps and globes (perhaps including the Contarini-Rosselli map mentioned above and near-contemporary world maps such as Fra Mauro (1459), Martellus (c.1490), and possibly the globe of Martin Behaim (1492); and a variety of early Spanish and Portuguese manuscript sources (including, probably, both reports and charts). He presumably made his world map in Rome in 1507. He is thought to be the “Fleming called John”, a close friend of Raphael who at one point resided with him. It has been suggested that he assisted and advised Raphael on his 1509-1510 Astronomia and other frescoes in the Stanza della segnatura. Not long after, Ruysch went to work at the Portuguese court as cartographer and astronomer, presumably by recommendation of Julius II who was a friend of Manuel I of Portugal. Beneventanus, writing in his commentary on the map for the Ptolemy edition of 1508 says: “Johannes Ruysch of Germany, in my judgment a most exact geographer, and a most painstaking one in delineating the globe, to whose aid in this little work I am indebted, has told me that he sailed from the South of England, and penetrated as far as the fifty-third degree of north latitude, and on that parallel he sailed west toward the shores of the East, bearing a little northward and observed many islands.”

While Ruysch is believed by some historians to have been with John Cabot on his famous voyage of 1497, his map makes no direct mention of the Cabots. Cape Race, which appeared on La Cosa’s map (#305) as Cavo de Ynglaterra, on Ruysch’s map is called C. De Portogesi. There are other indications that Ruysch made use of Portuguese charts in making his map. The names on the coast of Venezuela are quite different from those on the La Cosa map. Ruysch adopts the Portuguese name, Terra Sancte Crucis [Land of the Holy Cross] for South America instead of Tierra del Brazil, the name used by the Spaniards. In his representation of India as a triangular peninsula, between the Ganges and Indus rivers; in his location of the islands of Prilam [Sri Lanka] and Taprobana [Sumatra]; and in his delineation of the coastline of Africa, Ruysch displays accurate and up-to-date information concerning the Portuguese discoveries. This appears also from the inscriptions in the Indian Ocean. The one inscription to the left of India states that this sea, which on the Ptolemaic maps was represented as landlocked (#119), was shown by the Portuguese to be connected with the ocean. On Taprobane (alias Zoilon), which almost corresponds to the immense island currently called Sumatra, there is a long legend, partly borrowed from Ptolemy, but with the interesting addition that Portuguese mariners arrived there in 1507. Another legend on the southeastern parts of Asia alludes to the existence of numerous islands in that part of the ocean, of which notices from Indian merchants seem to have already reached Europe. The news of this discovery must have been very recent when the map was made. This Portuguese influence may be due only to the fact that Portuguese charts, while kept in great secrecy, were more numerous than Spanish ones.

There are several advanced features of this map that are the work of a virtually unknown cartographer. Apart from the fact that Ruysch was from Utrecht and sojourned in Cologne, little is known of him. Ruysch may therefore have drawn on first-hand knowledge in producing a map that is independent of the Contarini-Rosselli map of 1506, although there are a number of similar characteristics. Both maps are on fan-shaped conical projections, engraved on copper in typical Italian style, and select from a variety of Spanish, Portuguese, and earlier sources.

With the exception of some small maps based on the cosmographical speculations of the ancients, and inserted in the works of Macrobius, Sacrobosco and others (#201), along with the Contarini and Waldseemüller maps (#308 and #310), it is one of the first printed maps representing Africa as a peninsula encompassed by the ocean (Note: the Chinese had been displaying Africa in this manner for over 100 years prior to this map, see #227). The southern point of Africa moreover is here placed on a nearly correct latitude, thus giving a tolerably exact form to that part of the world. Ruysch also gives on his map a relatively correct place to the Insule ae Azores, Insula de Madera, Ins. Canarias and Insuie de Capo Verde.

Ruysch’s map is the first map published in print on which India is drawn as a triangular peninsula projecting from the south coast of Asia and bordered on the north by the rivers Indus and Ganges. Even though it has not yet received its full extension as a peninsula, yet an important deviation from Ptolemy’s geography is thus made on the map to a part of the world to which almost a privilegium exclusivum of knowledge was attributed to the ancients. The Indian peninsula on the Ruysch map now has significantly more names on both the west and east coasts than the Contarini-Rosselli map (#308) and, further east, Ruysch recognizes that the old Ptolemaic coastline can no longer apply. Madagascar is properly reduced in size and located more precisely. Sri Lanka, under the name of Prilam, is also laid down by Ruysch with about its proper size, and correctly as regards the southern point of India. Taprobana is placed further towards the East Indian peninsula, in which position this geographical remnant from the time of Alexander the Great was retained, down to the middle of the 16th century.

Zimpangu [Japan], which was shown prominently in mid-Pacific on the Contarini-Rosselli map is omitted completely by Ruysch. He refers in an inscription to Marco Polo’s account of Zipangu but admits he is puzzled as to its true position and concludes that Spagnola [Haiti/ Dominican Republic] must be the island in question.

Ruysch has produced the first printed map on which the delineation of the interior and eastern parts of Asia is no longer based exclusively on the material collected by Marinus of Tyre and Ptolemy more than a millennium previously, but on more modern reports, especially those of Marco Polo. Various new names are here added in Scytia intra Imaum, such as Tartaria Magna and Wolha [Volga], and an immense, quite new territory, an Asia extra Ptolemaeum, or Asia Alarci Pauli Veneti, is added beyond the eastern limits of Ptolemy’s oikumene [known world]. Here the Chinese river-system is given in a manner indicating other sources for the geography of eastern Asia, than Marco Polo’s written words. In its main features the delineation of eastern Asia, to the south of latitude 60 degrees north, on the map of Ruysch, so nearly resembles Behaim’s globe (#258), that a common original might have served for both. Both deviate from Fra Mauro’s map of the world (#249), which gives us a representation of these regions much inferior to both Behaim and Ruysch.

The exaggerated extension given by Ptolemy to the Mediterranean is much reduced here by Ruysch, from 62 to 53 degrees, the actual difference of longitude between Gibraltar and the western coast of Syria amounting to only 41 or 42 degrees. This correction had been made, centuries previously, on the portolanos [nautical charts]. The first cartographer who adopted Ruysch’s reduction, was the celebrated Gerard Mercator. On his famous map ad usum Navigantium of 1569 (#406), he gives the Mediterranean Sea a length of 52 degrees. Ruysch’s map is also the first printed map on which, in conformity with the drawings on the portolanos, a tolerably correct direction is given to the northern coast of Africa, by attending to the considerable difference of latitude between the coastlines to the east and to the west of Syrtis, and by giving a proper form to that bay.

The map of Ruysch is the first map published in print that, following a correction made in the portolanos since the beginning of the 14th century, leaves out that excessive projection towards the east, which characterizes Ptolemy’s map of the northern part of Scotland.

In Northern Europe, the church Sancti Odulfi shown on Ruysch’s map, is not the church in Vardø, Finnmark, but the cathedral in Trondheim. It is placed exactly where Trondheim is supposed to be on the map. This cathedral is the very Saint Olaf Cathedral, as it was built upon his grave. The church in Vardø was constructed in AD 1307 and was the first church in Finnmark. So, it was in place long before Ruysch made his map, and to be true, no one knows from what saint it was named. Neither is it any reason for thinking that the island above Norway is meant to be Svalbard. It has no remarkable similarity to Svalbard, and in fact there are four similar islands. Then it is more probable that this feature of the map is inspired by the Inventio Fortunatae, or from the fact that the old cartographers wanted the landmasses to be in balance.

Ruysch drew his map as a planisphere on a modified equidistant conical projection with its apex at the North Pole which is another remarkable feature. In its plane state the map appears as an opened fan with the curved, or southern edge, at the bottom. Some of the lettering is also unusual as it appears to have been made by a punch rather than the usual burin engraving tool. This suggests that the map was prepared for press in a hurry and the punch used as the quickest method of lettering the plate.

The map is full of cartographic innovation. Ruysch depicts the North Polar regions with some geographical basis for the first time and it is believed that the famous Gerhard Mercator was influenced by the map when he prepared the circular inset of the Arctic on his great world map of 1569. It must be said that Ruysch’s depiction of the New World further south in the present Caribbean is rather confusing but his delineation of present day South America represents a great advance bringing to the printed map an accurate depiction of the coasts of what are today Venezuela and Brasil. Even the famous Admiral’s map in Martin Waldseemüller's 1513 edition of Ptolemy does not show so much detail of the Brasilian coast.

The African continent on the map is yet another cartographic advance as it breaks with the early tradition which held that there was a landbridge between eastern African and the peninsula of Southeast Asia. It is also the first map which shows the Portuguese discoveries and landfalls along the southern and Cape coasts. Ruysch also shows the Indian subcontinent as a peninsula for the first time. His general accuracy in the eastern hemisphere is almost certainly due to contemporary information gained from Portuguese navigators and explorers.

With respect to the New World, the most notable innovation in Ruysch’s map is the representation of the western discoveries. However, his map is also a mixture of tradition, new information, and misleading conjecture. Ruysch’s treatment of Greenland exemplifies the composite nature of his representation. Ruysch correctly draws Gruenlant [Greenland] as separate from Europe, not connected with Europe by a vast polar continent as some earlier maps indicate. Instead of connected with Europe, he links Greenland with Asia through Newfoundland (Terra Nova). In addition, he shows the northern polar regions as a basin with a number of islands, thus prompting the long-held hope for a Northwest passage from Europe to Asia. Ruysch seems to have had no doubt that Gruenlant was a part of Asia and not of Europe as usually represented on maps of this period. Off the coast of Gruenlant is the location of an island that was totally consumed by fire in the year of our Lord, 1456.  According to the historian A. E. Nordenskiöld, “the sagas of Iceland mention a small island between Iceland and Greenland from which the coast mountains of both were visible, although no such island at present exists”.  Directly south of Gruenlant the following inscription gives warning of the dangers encountered by fishermen in that region: It is said that those who came formerly in ships among these islands for fish and other food were so deceived by the demons that they could not go on land without danger.

Another interesting, but almost illegible, inscription near Gruenlant reads: Hic compassus navium non tenet nec naves quæ ferum tenent revertere valent. [Here the ship's compass loses its property, and no vessel with iron on board is able to get away].  This belief probably arose from the variation of the compass needle, which was noticed by Cabot. This inscription doubtless refers to the experience of the second expedition of the Cabots, which it is believed Ruysch may have accompanied.


On the margin of the map, near the North Pole, is an interesting inscription referring to the magnetic pole, which it is said was first located by the English friar Nicolas de Linna, who made a voyage to the north in 1355 and presented to Edward III of England an account of his discovery, with the title, Inventio fortunat. From this report Mercator said he derived his idea of the four polar islands (#407).  These islands are also seen on the map of Ruysch, who placed the magnetic pole on an island north of Greenland. The pole is now located in Prince Albert Island. The inscription mentioned above reads: “It is said in the book concerning the fortunate discovery that at the arctic pole there is a high magnetic rock, thirty-three German miles in circumference. A surging sea surrounds this rock, as if the water were discharged downward from a vase through an opening. Around it are islands, two of which are inhabited.”  The legend of a huge magnetic mountain, dragging to it all vessels with iron aboard, was a long-standing myth of terror mentioned by Ptolemy and later elaborated by the Arabs.

According to H. P. Biggar, the Cabots came upon the eastern coast of Greenland. This coast was called “Labrador's Land” as it was first sighted by the Portuguese, João Fernandes, the “llabrador” or laborer, whom John Cabot had brought with him from the Azores, where he had gone the previous summer to recruit skilled seamen for his crew. Turning north, “they had,” says Peter Martyr, “in a manner continual daylight.” The action of the compass in those high latitudes might well cause the alarm expressed in the above inscriptions. The evidence that the landfall of the Cabots was Greenland and not Labrador is cited by Biggar.

The basis of the entire Ruysch map, according to the historian Henry Harrisse, was a purely Lusitanian planisphere, similar to those of Cantino and Caveri (#306 and #307), but constructed after the former and before the latter; that is, between 1502 and 1504, as we have shown in a comparative description of the continental region which is north of Central America in Portuguese charts. However, theses dates are obviously not correct given the notations on the map of the Portuguese discoveries of 1507.

There are in the section of the map delineating the New World, two very distinct parts, based upon data of similar origin, one of which, however, was modified in a most important respect. The first part is that which represents Newfoundland. Originally, the region was delineated nearly as we see it in Cantino, and in all the Lusitano-Germanic maps. This can be seen simply by comparing the eastern profile of the Terra del Rey de portugall (present-day Newfoundland) in Cantino and the King-Hamy (#307.1), with the profile of the Terra Nova of Ruysch, which is exactly the same region.

But as Ruysch had himself visited the northern part of Newfoundland on board an English vessel, and acquired from experience positive data concerning the situation of that peninsula, as he calls it: qui peninsulae Terra Noua uocatæ, without having the same reasons as Gaspar Corte Real to place it in the middle of the Atlantic, within the Portuguese Line of Demarcation, Ruysch, following the charts used by his English companions, brought Newfoundland close to the western continent.

Terra Nova, one of the earliest uses of this term for the modern Newfoundland, appears as a large peninsula jutting out from the mainland of Asia, although on some copies of the map, because of wear or creases, it may appear to be depicted as an island. On all other maps of the first half of the 16th century, even on the Cabot map of 1544, it is represented as a group of islands. The use of the name Insula Baccalauras on the coast of Terra Nova is one of the earliest instances of the appearance on any map of the American coast of that Romance word for codfish, baccallaos. There is no certain authority for the statement sometimes made that the term was first applied in the west by the Cabots nor for the assertion by Peter Martyr that the word was found by Europeans in use among the natives of Terra Nova. 

  Meanwhile, it behooves us to show the Portuguese origin of his geographical data, south of what Ruysch names Terra Nova, which, with him, does not mean the New World, or the country newly discovered, but present-day Newfoundland exclusively; in imitation of the English mariners with whom he visited that island. “Qui peninsula Terra Nova vocatæ, says his commentator, Marcus Beneventanus.

To that effect, Harrisse compares the nomenclature of the region placed in Ruysch’s mappamundi, south of his Terra Nova, with the names inscribed on the northwestern continental land in the Cantino and Caveri maps, both of which are of the Lusitanian map tradition, with no admixture of foreign geographical elements whatever. Harrisse establishes a similar comparison between Ruysch’s South America and the latter continent in all of the seven world charts, now known, which circulated in Europe when he constructed his mappamundi.   One is Spanish, and the work of Juan de la Cosa (#305), who designed it in Andalusia before October, 1500. The other six originated in Portugal, and were delineated during the first few years of the 16th century. They are:

      1.  Cantino (#308) 4.  Kunstmann No. 3

      2.  Kunstmann No. 2 (#309) 5.  Kunstmann No. I (#307.2)

3.  King (#307.1)          6.  Caveri (#307)

In those maps, the American coastlines of the mainland bear distinctive names.  For the north and south together, de la Cosa gives twenty-nine; Kunstmann No. 2, forty-four; Kunstmann No. 3, twenty-three; and Caveri, eighty-one.  Only a few names are inscribed on the King and Kunstmann No. 1 maps.

Ruysch inscribes thirty-six names on his map, but not one of them is to be found either in the de la Cosa or in any other Spanish map whatever; while thirty-one out of its whole number are duly set forth either in the Cantino (#306), or Kunstmann No. 2 (#309), or Caveri (#307) maps (not to speak of Waldseemüller (#310) and Schöner (#328), which are derivatives of Portuguese maps), as is shown in Harrisse’s two-page list of place-names showing the matches/lack of matches between the Ruysch map and the Cantino, Caveri and Kunstmann No. 2 maps.  This historian believes that it is striking proof of the Portuguese origin, direct or indirect, of Ruysch’s nomenclature.  Of the thirty-six names inscribed by Ruysch, thirty-one, at least, figure on the Lusitanian charts.   Moreover, if his mappamundi was based upon Spanish maps, the names which he inscribes on the sea-board of Brazil, for instance, would recall the nomenclature of Vicente Yanez Pinzon, or of Diego de Lepe, and not that of the Portuguese Pedro Alvarez Cabral. The famous Cape of the Holy Cross on which de la Cosa puts the legend: This cape was discovered in the year 1499 [old style] for Castile, Vicente Yañez being the discoverer thereof, would not be called, on Ruysch’s map: not Caput S. Crvcis, but Cabo de Santa Maria de la Consolacion which is the name given to that cape by Pinzon on January 26, 1500, or Rostro Hermoso, as he also, if not de Lepe, named it.

N     Norway H    Hyperborea

V     Ventelant M   Magnetic Mt.

G     Greenland (magnetic) GP Ginnungagap

G2  Grvenlant (geographic) B    Baffin Island

L    Labrador NF Newfoundland

The Ruysch map is instructive concerning the location of Greenland on late 15th  century maps and those of the 16th century. On the Norwegian peninsula (N) we find Ventelant (V) near the Arctic Circle. This is an archaic placement for Vinland—which was thought to be “north” of Norway. In like manner, there is a second peninsula above Norway which usually represents Greenland Island (G) on most maps of the period. Above this is Hyperborea Europa (H) which is a carryover from the Norveca Europa of the de Virga map of 1414 (#240) where it was presumed the Hyperboreans lived near the North Pole. Across the vertical ocean or Ginnungagap (GP) is a caption that cautions mariners not to rely upon compass bearings as the compass fails in this region. Usually, maps had this caption southwest of Greenland—thus one may be on good grounds for identifying the land here called Grvenlant as Labrador (L). Since most historians have assumed this is simply another frivolous naming—we can understand the controversy over whether the Spanish navigator Fernandez (The Labrador) actually discovered Greenland or Labrador. On the other hand, we know that several cartographers identified North American mainland as “Greenland” so the label for Labrador on this map is not so unusual.

Ruysch’s delineations of the South American continent embrace likewise, the coasts of Venezuela and Honduras, which were discovered by Spanish navigators, who, of course, made maps of their discoveries. Yet it was not from these that he took his names and legends for that region. This is shown by the fact that none of his designations for the Honduras, Venezuela, and Guyana coasts are to be found among the fifty names inserted along those sea-boards by Juan de la Cosa, who was one of the discoverers; nor even in the nomenclature of the Ribero map (#346) and other official quantity of cosmographers, who must have followed, in that respect, though it was twenty-five years later, the traditions of the Spanish school.

   Then, where did Ruysch pick up the egregious mistake that transformed A baia de todos Sanctos [All-Saints Bay] into Abatia omnium Sanctorum [AIl Saints Abbey]? Not in Spanish charts, certainly, but in a Lusitano-Germanic map, manipulated by a northern cartographer who had read the Latin version of the four voyages of Vespucci, printed at St. Die in Lorraine, in May, 1507, and where we see Omnium sanctorum abbatiam, while all the Spanish maps properly inscribe, Baya de todos sanctos (Turin and Weimar charts).

   Another decisive proof of the Portuguese origin of Ruysch’s cartographical data is the legend which he has inscribed across the country bearing his twenty-eight South American names, viz.: Terra Sancte Crucis. No such designation as the “Land of the Holy Cross” was ever adopted in Spain for Brazil, or written on any map by the Spanish pilots or geographers of that time. It was originally given to those regions by Pedro Alvarez Cabral, when, on the 23rd of April, 1500, a landing was effected under the Portuguese flag on the coast of Brazil: “En las octavas de la pascua siguiente llego a una tierra que nuevamente descubrio, a la cual puso nombre de Santa Cruz,” or, rather, if we follow a Portuguese original text discovered in the State Archives at Venice:  “e nas outavas de Pascoa seguyente cheguou a una terra que novamente descobrio, a que pos nome Santa”, as King Manoel wrote to Ferdinand and Isabella, July 29, 1501. But the Spaniards always, and justly, claimed to have discovered that country, as Pinzon had sighted and actually taken possession of the land situated by 8° 19’ south latitude, three months before. They consequently never accepted its Lusitanian name, and invariably called that region Tierra del Brasil. The Portuguese, on the other hand, at once named it Terra Sancta Crivis, as is evidenced by the original documents above quoted, as well as by the King chart (#307.1), and particularly Kunstmann No. 2 (#309), where we read on a scroll:  “Terra sancta crucis, while, on the mainland, there is a legend which begins thus: Ista terra q. inuenta sunt positum est nomen terra sac eo quod in die sancte crucis inuenta est.” Popularly it was also called La terra dagli Papaga [Parrots’ Land], on account of those large and beautiful birds that Gaspar de Lemos brought to Portugal.  It was only at a later that it was named Brazil, by reason of the large quantity of dye-wood found in that country.

C. Glaciato on the eastern coast suggests the work of the Italian editor and Baia de Rockas shows the influence of English associations.

The southern coastline of Newfoundland continues directly west to the land of Gog and Magog, and thence south to Cathay. From the Biblical land of Gog and Magog the people of the Middle Ages expected the coming of destructive races at the last day. Behaim (#258) and La Cosa (#305) also locate this fabled region in Asia.

As regards the continental regions south of Newfoundland, and discovered by the Spaniards and Portuguese, Ruysch was clearly of the opinion that they were entirely distinct from Newfoundland or the pseudo Asiatic country which he had visited and delineated; and that they constituted a new world, as yet imperfectly known, particularly regarding its west coast. This coast Ruysch could not admit to be connected in any manner with as he already depicts in detail the eastern Asiatic seaboards, from the point where they merge with his northern regions, to 39 degrees south latitude, which is the termination of the map.

While Ruysch undoubtedly believed that the lands seen by the Cabots and Corte-Reals were part of Asia, he thought that the coasts explored by Columbus, Vincente Pinzon, Cabral, and others belonged to a continent separated from Asia by a stretch of open sea. In the south, Ruysch shows the Caribbean basin as separate from Asia, but assumes (as indicted in an inscription in the western Pacific) that Sipganus/Cipango/ Zipangu (Marco Polo’s Japan) is identical with Spagnola (Hispaniola, modern Haiti and the Dominican Republic), thus reinforcing Columbus’ belief that the West Indies were very close to Asia.

His representation of the West Indies is confusing. Near the island of Spagnola [Haiti] and south of the island of Antilia is an inscription that tells the story of that island as given on Behaim’s globe (#258). What was intended by the land west of Spagnola is uncertain. The historian Varnhagen maintained that it was the land seen by Vespucci on his disputed voyage of 1497.  Another historian, Kohl, thought it was meant to show that Cuba was a peninsula of a new land. Ruysch’s knowledge of the New World, south of Newfoundland, appears to be derived exclusively from another Lusitano-Germanic map, according to Harrisse, who believed that the apparent omission of Cuba was an oversight on the part of Ruysch.  The name C. De Fundabril on the peninsula extending toward Spagnola is suggestive of Cuba as that name was given by Columbus, on his second voyage, to a cape on the coast of Cuba which he left the on the 30th of April. On the scroll upon the west coast of this unnamed land is the inscription: As far as this the ships of Ferdinand have come.  To the southwest of the supposed island of Cuba is this striking statement: M. Polo says that 1400 miles to the east of the port of Zaiton there is a very large island called Sipango, whose inhabitants worship idols and have their own king and are tributary to none. They have a great abundance of gold and all kinds of gems. But as the islands discovered by the Spaniards occupy this spot, we do not dare to locate this island here, being of the opinion that what the Spaniards call Spagnola is really Cipango, since the things that are described as of Cipango are also found in Spagnola, besides the idolatry.  The considerable distance from the eastern coast of China adopted for Zipangu [Japan] by the geographers of the first part of the 16th century depends, according to Peschel, on the distance being given by Marco Polo in Chinese Li of which there are 250 per one degree of latitude. This Chinese Li was by the European cartographers confounded with the Italian mile (60 = 1 degree).

The unnamed northwestern continental land in Ruysch is also far less complete than we find it depicted in the Caveri map (#307); and it is certain, from its shape and position, that if Ruysch’s prototype had presented a coast line extending, for instance, so far south as 10 degrees north latitude, he would not have cut it off at ten degrees.  From the moment that we admit the existence of a map which exhibited the northwestern continental region as reaching only to the Tropic of Cancer, we are authorized to presume that there may also have been a map which represented that land ten degrees shorter still; in as much as such is, prima facie at least, its latitudinal area in the map of Cantino (#306). In the present state of the enquiry, the critic is bound, therefore, to accept, as being within the meaning of the original cartographer, the configuration and extent of that continental land as we find them measured and depicted in the said map.

The configuration of the continental land that corresponds with the northwestern region of the Cantino map is distorted in that map, but perfectly recognizable on Ruysch’s. However, Ruysch exhibits a geographical peculiarity that must be noted and explained. He depicts no island, whether named “Isabella” or otherwise, between that northern continent and Hispaniola.  Such an omission, if interpreted strictly, would make of that land nothing but Cuba, and reject the document among the maps of the first type.  In reality, the absence of an island between the northwestern coast and Hispaniola must be ascribed either to an oversight, or to a late innovation introduced by that geographer upon his own responsibility.

This was one of the first printed maps to show any part of the New World and may also be one of the first to include information on that continent from first-hand knowledge. It was, in short, a remarkable map for its time. In his scholarly work, The Continent of America, John Boyd Thacher made this comment regarding the Ruysch map; “The mystery of this map — and every early map boasted its mystery — is the absence of the island of Cuba from its place in the Caribbean Sea”. Indeed, many scholars of early New World cartography have debated the meaning of this oversight on Ruysch’s part. Henry Harrisse, in his book, The Discovery of North America, states that as early as 1526 Franciscus Monachus criticized the Ruysch map for its depictions in the Caribbean Sea. ‘Thus did Franciscus prove once more, that, in the opinion of geographers, the said continental land was not the island of Cuba but formed part of the north-western continent”.

It appears the answer to this question has been hidden on the map itself since 1507. It has long been recognized that there were corrections to the plates of this map even before the earliest known example, state one. Thus the importance of examining an early strike of the map, to better discern these changes. It is astonishing to think that a map which was published only once, over a period of one or two years, had so many revisions (at least six). Obviously the printers were taking great care to ensure that it was accurate and up to date. Apparently much soul- searching was done in the choosing of its delineations, especially in regard to the New World.

A close examination of the landmass to the northwest of Spagnola reveals a startling fact. In the state that preceded state one there was a smaller island within this space and it was labeled CVBA. The stippled lines which represent ocean spill well into the current landmass, both in the north and south. Where these ocean lines stop, a faint outline of a smaller island can be found. This outline continues within the current landmass except to the northwest, where it extends into the ocean as a faint but obvious serpentine line. Within this smaller island, and to the left of the name CORVEO are found the faint letters DE CV Under the small triangle preceding the name CORVEO is the letter B and under the following C the letter A is found. It is likely that the word TERRA or INSULE preceded these.

Rather than forgetting Cuba, it is obvious that Ruysch deliberated at great length as to how Cuba should be represented. After first choosing to represent it as a small island, he then changed his mind and used the outline of the “North American” continental landmass on Portuguese manuscript charts akin to the Cantino map (#306), only in smaller dimensions, to represent Cuba on his map. Whether this second configuration represents combined information from Columbus’ first two voyages, data gained from Americo Vespucci’s ‘first’ voyage, an early description of the Yucatan, or some other source has been, and will continue to be, a matter of great debate.

One can only speculate what pieces of information Ruysch used to come to these decisions. By using this second configuration Ruysch accepts Colombus’ concept of Cuba as a large landmass that had not been circumnavigated, but does not accept it as part of Asia.

Virtually nothing is known about Johan Ruysch or the origin of the world map attributed to him. Ruysch is believed to have accompanied John Cabot to the American north east in 1497, and, until the discovery of the Contarini (#308, 1506) and Waldseemüller (#310, 1507) maps, his was thought to be the earliest printed work to depict the New World.

Ruysch’s map is dissimilar to the Contarini and Waldseemüller in two respects which are relevant here: Ruysch alone has the new and radical Portuguese data to delineate the Indian Ocean with uncanny accuracy and he alone failed to chart either Japan or Cuba. He revealed in a legend that he believed Japan and Hispaniola to be the same island, but he makes no mention of Cuba at all. In Cuba’s theoretical position lies a triangular-shaped landmass whose west coast is left undefined. That Ruysch must have considered its possible connection to the Asian mainland, corresponding to Columbus’ claims about Cuba, is all the more interesting in light of Don’s discovery.

As Ruysch envisaged a smaller world, his data from westerly and easterly voyages could overlap. It was perhaps the task of reconciling complex information received from both Caribbean and oriental expeditions that led to Ruysch’s indecision in the Caribbean, or, as he would have called it, the China Sea.

Still farther south there is, on Ruysch’s map, a large island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean between latitude 37 and 40 degrees north.  It is called Antilia Insula, and a long inscription on the map asserts that it had been searched for in vain, but that it had been discovered long ago by the Spaniards, whose last Gothic king, Roderik had taken refuge there from the invasion of the Barbarians. The inscription depends on a myth, which has played a certain part in the history of geography, and from which is derived the present name of the islands between Florida and the northern coast of South America. The earliest delineations of an island, Antilia, in the Atlantic Ocean, are found on a portolano of 1425, belonging to the Library at Weimar, and on Andrea Bianco’s map of 1436 (#241). On the globe of Behaim (#258) to the south of the Azores an island of the same name is also represented, provided with a long inscription, corresponding, but not identical with the legend of Ruysch.

In the long inscription in the interior of South America, called Terra Sancte Crucis sive Mundus Novus here for the first time, Ruysch describes the inhabitants and natural products of the country following the letters of Vespucci and other sources. South America is depicted as a large continent. The name “America” had been suggested only the previous year by Waldseemüller (#310), and it is possible that Ruysch had not heard of the suggestion when he made his map or for some reason he did not care to follow it. We here obtain notices regarding exploring-voyages undertaken before 1508, of which no other information is met with in the history of geographical discovery. The natives of this Mundus Novus are described in the long inscription across its northern part:

At different places this region is inhabited, and it is supposed by many to be another world. Women and men appear either entirely naked or clad with interwoven leaves and the feathers of birds of various colors. They live together in common without any religion or kin. They are continually at war among themselves. They eat the human flesh of captives. They exercise so much in the salubrious air that they live more than one hundred and fifty years.  They are rarely sick, and then they cure themselves only with the roots of plants. There are lions here, and serpents and other terrible monsters are found in the forests. Very large quantities of pearls and gold are in the mountains and rivers. From here brazilwood, or verzini, and cassia are carried away by the Portuguese.

Below this inscription is another: 

Portuguese navigators have inspected this part of this land, and have sailed as far as the fiftieth degree of south latitude without seeing the southern limit of it.

On the scroll on the unknown western coast of South America is the statement: 

As far as this Spanish navigators have come, and they have called this land, on account of its greatness, the New World.  Inasmuch as they have not wholly explored it nor surveyed it farther than the present termination, it must remain thus imperfectly delineated until it is known in what direction it extends.

On the east coast of South America is the interesting name Abatia õniu sactoru, or All Saints Abbey.  This form, as well as that used by Waldseemüller, Omnium sanctorum abbatiam, is a corruption of the Portuguese inscription on the Cantino map: a baia de todos los sanctos, or the Bay of All Saints.  All maps made in northern Europe followed Ruysch in this error and all Spanish and Portuguese maps used the correct form and hence it has come about that the use of this name has become a means of classifying later maps.  Harrisse believed that this error took its origin in the Latin translation of the letters of Vespucci, who first saw and named this port.  It is known today as Abbadia.

The Ruysch map is classified by the historian Henry Harrisse as a Type III within the Lusitano-Germanic Group of new world maps (the only specimen that Harrisse places in this Type). There are, both in the Ruysch and Caveri (#307) maps, geographical representations and names showing that their prototypes differed in important respects from Cantino. The Asiatic coasts are different; the nomenclature presents also a number of names that are in one and not in the other two, and vice versa. Madagascar, on Ruysch’s map, is evidently borrowed from a recently made Portuguese map, as is evidenced by the name Sada therein inscribed, and which is an abbreviation of Comoro Sada, which must have been derived from the account of Tristão D’Acuña, made known after his return in 1506.  That Portuguese map, however, may have been limited to the Asiatic and African regions; or if it was a planisphere, may have exhibited more ancient configurations for the New World.

While one of the more widely circulated of all the printed maps from this period, none have exercised so little influence over the cartography of the New World as this mappamundi. We have never seen its configurations reproduced anywhere; and it is only mentioned twice in the first half of the 16th century.

As mentioned above, Ruysch’s world map more usually appears in the 1508 printing of the Rome Ptolemy.  Minor amendments were made to both the right and left hand plates of which the made is comprised and in consequence a number of “states” are known.  These have been classified sequentially as follows:

StateLeft-hand PlateRight-hand Plate

    1The island La Dominica isLacks inscriptions mentioned below

Cannibali instead.

    2As stated in 1 above.Sinus Gageticus in the Bay of Bengal

          and Sinus Magnus added further east.

  3La Dominica correctly labeled.As in State 2 above.

    4Sinus Gruenlanteus added between As in State 3 above.

Greenland and Newfoundland.

  5As in State 4 above.Pelagus Bone Speranze added off the Cape of Good Hope.

It is evident, from what has already been said, that Ruysch deserves to be placed in the first rank among the reformers of cartography. His map is not a copy of the map of the world by Ptolemy, nor a learned master-piece composed at the writing-table, but a revision of the old maps of the known world, made on a Ptolemaic, i.e., on a scientific basis, with the aid, on the one hand of great personal experience and geographical learning and, on the other, of extensive knowledge combined with a critical use of the traditions among practical seamen of different nations. The legends on this map are consequently of very high interest, and form a more important contribution to the history of geography than many a bulky volume.

Location:  Harvard College Library;

Library of Congress;

Arthur Holzheimer Collection

Size:  40.5 x 53.5 cm


Beans, George H., “The Ruysch World map in its earliest known state,” Imago Mundi V (1948), 72.

Crone, Gerald R., Maps and their Makers, pp. 54-55.

Fite, E. & Freeman, A., A Book of Old Maps, pp. 29-32.

Goss, J., “The Remarkable Ruysch Map”, The Map Collector, Issue 17, pp. 52-53.

Harrisse, H., Discovery of North America, pp. 296-302; 449-52.

Klemp, Egon, America in maps dating from 1500 to 1856, New York, 1976, no. 5.

Nebenzahl, K., Atlas of Columbus, pp. 48-51, Plate 15.

McIntosh, Gregory C., The Johannes Ruysch and Martin Waldseemüller World Maps, 2012

Nordenskiöld, A.E., Facsimile Atlas, pp. 64-67.

Schwartz, Seymour J. and Ralph E. Ehrenberg, The Mapping of North America, pp. 28 f., Figure 6.

Shirley, R.W., The Mapping of the World, pp. 25-27, Plate 29.

Swan, B., “The Ruysch Map of the World (1507-1508),” Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 45 (1951), 219-236

Thacher, John Boyd, The Continent of America.

Thompson, G., The Friar’s Map, p. 138.

Tooley, Ronald V., “The Strait that never was. The first of a series on geographical misconceptions,” The Map Collector 2 (March 1978), pp. 2-7.

Wolff, Hans, America. Early Maps of the New World, pp. 63, 154, 163-164.