When Amerigo Vespucci returned
from the third expedition that he had made upon the personal instructions
of the king of Portugal, he entrusted to his sovereign a detailed
technical account of the voyage which had led him to explore the
Atlantic coast of South America. This document, The New World,
was composed between the 7th of September 1502, the date of his
return to Lisbon, and the 10th of May 1503, the date upon which
he undertook his fourth expedition.
The New World is a rather brief writing. It occupies
only a few printed pages, but it was rapidly published by a large
number of printers, in Paris, Florence, Antwerp, and also in Strasbourg,
in 1505, by Matthias Ringmann. It is not an overstatement to say
that this short text truly became a European best seller.
It is this very text which, in 1507, was added
to the Cosmographiae Introductio, printed in Saint-Dié-des-Vosges.
At the end of the 15th century, this city was the theater of a
brilliant intellectual movement. A place of choice belongs to
a small group of scholars who manifested their interest in geography:
Walther and Nicholas Lud, Johann Viator (Pélérin),
Johann Basin Sandaucourt, Matthias Ringmann and Martin Waldseemuller.
Let’s direct our attention to the last
two names. Matthias Ringmann was born in 1482 in the Alsatian
vineyard country between Barr and Sélestat (Eichhoffen
or Reichsfeld, the question remains open). He was probably a pupil
in Sélestat’s Latin School, founded by Ludwig Dringenberg.
Then he continued his studies in theology and mathematics at the
University of Heidelberg, where he met Jakob Wimpfeling (another
Sélestadian). Registered next at the University of Paris,
Ringmann learned Greek and took Lefèvre d’Etaple’s
classes on cosmography, philosophy and mathematics until 1503.
It was most likely in Paris that he came upon The New World. Once
he returned to Strasbourg, he came to work in the publishing milieu.
This was where he met Walther Lud, who had the idea of associating
him to his undertaking. Ringmann would indeed become a valuable
collaborator: he knew Greek, had studied cosmography, and was
especially interested in the discoveries made by Vespucci. In
addition, he was versed in the techniques of printing.
Martin Waldseemuller’s place and date of
birth are an object of contention among researchers : he was born
either in Radolfzell, on the banks of the Lake of Constance, or
in Freiburg-im-Breisgau, circa 1474. In 1490, Martin began his
university studies in Freiburg, then left for Basel, where he
worked in a printshop. It was there that he entered the orders.
How did Lud come to engage Waldseemuller as his
cartographer in order to produce the Geographia of Ptolomy? The
answer is unknown. Be that as it may, Lud introduced him to Duke
René of Lorraine as “the greatest expert” in
the art of drawing up maps.
As a matter of fact, between 1507 and 1519, Waldseemuller
drew up a large number of maps of exceptional quality, maps which
inspired cosmographers for decades. It is to this select group
of Saint-Dié that we owe the creation of the Cosmographiae
Introductio. The two technicians of the undertaking were Ringmann,
who was able to read and translate the Greek texts into Latin,
and Waldseemuller, the excellent cartographer.
The Cosmographiae Introductio, as the name somewhat
indicates, is the preface, so to speak, to a description of the
world. The purpose of this brochure is to explain the great map
of the world, the universalis cosmographia drawn up by Waldseemuller.
There is no conclusive evidence allowing one
to attribute the authorship of the Cosmographiae Introductio to
one or the other of the five members of the select group of scholars
in Saint-Dié. In a dedication of the book, Waldseemuller
asserted himself as the creator of the map and the globe. It is
quite likely that Matthias Ringmann wrote the text.
What conclusion may be drawn? The text of the
Cosmographia appears to result from the thoughts and discussions
of three individuals: Lud, Ringmann and Waldseemuller. The invention
of the name America is most likely the fruit of their close collaboration,
to be put to the credit of this group of scholars.
Why were there several editions, at least one
(perhaps two or three) bearing a dedication under the name of
the School (Gymnasium) of Saint-Dié, but then another under
the names of Ringmann and Waldseemuller? It is likely that the
printings bearing the name of the Gymnasium were to be distributed
in Lorraine and the rest of Europe, while that made with the dedication
of Ringmann-Waldseemuller was published especially for the two
scholars, as a mark of gratitude and a partial payment for their
collaboration. A copy of this last printing was offered by Ringmann
in 1510 to Beatus Rhenanus, a former fellow-pupil at Sélestat’s
Latin School. It seems reasonable to suppose that this printing
was not large and that it was the first. It is possible that the
example belonging to the Humanist Library of Sélestat is
the only remaining example of this restricted edition in the world.
A survey is underway. An “America code” in a sense!
Finally, it is not overstating the case to say
that 1507 is the date of a new vision of world geography from
at least three points of view. There is:
--the first representation of the “New World” as a
true fourth continent (unknown until then to cartographic documents)
--the appellation of this new continent from the name of the navigator
who was the first to realize that he had reached unknown lands
--the universal diffusion of the new representation of the world
thanks to the art of printing developed by Gutenberg half a century