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APIANUS, Petrus. Cosmographia Petri Apiani, per gemmam Frisium…. Paris, Viviantius Gaultherot, 1553 (1551 col).

4to [24.1 x 15.9 cm], (2) ff., 74 ff., (1) f. folding woodcut map, with numerous astronomical and geographical woodcuts in the text, four volvelles (complete; see below), woodcut initials. Bound in early vellum, remnants of ties, ink shelfmark on upper cover, red and blue mottled edges. Minor waviness, rubbing and staining to spine and covers. A few contemporary annotations in the text, the occasional minor stain, very minor toning to a few leaves, centerfold of map mended with slight loss to title & map, volvelles well preserved.


An attractive and genuine example – with all volvelles present – of this copiously illustrated Paris edition (1553) of one of the most important astronomical and geographic texts of the Renaissance, Petrus Apianus’ Cosmographia. The work’s large, cordiform world map contains the most influential 16th-century representation of the New World (with South America labelled ‘America’ and North America depicted as a long strip of land labeled ‘Baccalearum,’ or ‘Land of Cod’). This Paris edition also includes several fine, full-page woodcuts (captioned in French) depicting celestial and terrestrial globes and various astronomical instruments. The volvelles demonstrate how to measure longitude, the meridian, the time of day according to the season, and the altitude and latitude of the poles.

First published in 1524, and subsequently translated into numerous languages, the Cosmographia was the basis of mathematical geography for a century after its initial publication. “During the first half of the sixteenth century Germany was the principal center of both mathematical and descriptive geography … [The] German school of geographers had its greatest exponents in Peter Appian (1501-52) and Sebastian Münster (1489-1552). Apian was an astronomer and mathematician; in his Cosmographicus Liber … subsequently edited by the great Flemish mathematician Gemma Phrysius [Frisius] under the simpler title Cosmographia, he based the whole science on mathematics and measurements, following Ptolemy in making a distinction between geography (the study of the earth as a whole) and chorography (the study of specific areas). His work may best be described as a theoretical textbook; for a hundred years it was a standard source…” (Penrose, pp. 308-9)

This was the first work to suggest the use of lunar distance to calculate longitude (DSB), and the Frisius redaction contains the earliest printed description of the use of triangulation to achieve accurate mapping without calculation. Frisius also here added to the compass a rotating ring dial, making a manner of ‘variation’ compass which could measure the sun’s position by its midday shadow or by equal altitudes, an innovation important for determining time while at sea (see Walters, p. 60).

Editions of this Gaultherot imprint variously have title and colophon dated 1551, title dated 1551 with colophon 1553, and title dated 1553 with colophon 1551 (as here). The volvelles of the present example conform to the Harvard copy described by Mortimer: “Four of these illustrations are volvelles with a total of eleven printed pieces attached, and a fifth cut has string attached. In the Harvard copies and copies at the Library of Congress, the separate pieces have been strengthened by pasting them, before cutting, on waste leaves from a variety of other texts” (Mortimer, p. 35).

* Mortimer, French, vol. I, no. 27; Adams A1281; Alden 551/3; Borba de Moraes, vol. I, pp. 41-2; Lalande, p. 73; Sabin 1749; Houzeau and Lancaster, 2392; Shirley, The Mapping of the World, 82; B. Penrose, Travel and Discovery in the Renaissance; D. W. Waters, Art of Navigation., vol. I, no. 27.

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