World Vision, Regional Maps

During the past year-plus our awareness of global connectedness has been heightened by the Covid-19 pandemic. However, our responses – business closures, mask mandates, and other measures – have been principally regional. This interplay of global vision and regional perspectives is captured in the works of two cartographers who produced treasures that feature prominently in the cartographical collection of the Herzog August Bibliothek: Lambert of Saint-Omer (Liber Floridus) and Caspar Vopel. As the library and the city of Wolfenbüttel commemorate the 75-year anniversary of the state of Lower Saxony, certainly the role of a particular territory within a larger nation and the world is a topic worthy of discussion as we consider these maps.

Little is known about canon Lambert of Saint-Omer (died c. 1125) beyond his masterpiece, the Liber Floridus. Albert Delorez refers to this collection as a “metaphysical encyclopedia” and Lambert has drawn from over 100 texts in the volume. Diagrams and miscellaneous mappae mundi – both T-O and Macrobian schemes – are scattered through the text, but the most impressive is the Spera geometrica that appears in the Wol fenbüttel manuscript on folios 69v-70r (Cod. Guelf. 1 Gud. lat., c. 1175). 

Image 1: Macrobian style world map (mappamundi) in Lambert of Saint-Omer, Liber Floridus, labeled as “Spera geometrica.” Two habitable zones appear on either side (north and south) of the dividing world ocean. (HAB, Cod. Guelf. 1 Gud. lat., fols. 69v-70r), Lizenz: CC BY SA 4.0

Lambert attributes features of this world map to Martianus Capella (De nuptiis philologiae et mercurii, 4th c. CE), but an alternative title on the facing page, Hormista regnorum mundi, suggests influence from Paul Orosius (Historiarum adversum paganos libri VII, 5th c. CE). This impressive Macrobian style mappa mundi includes both a northern region – the familiar oikoumene of Asia, Africa, and Europe – and an unknown southern region (Auster, folio 70r).

The detailed map of the oikoumene (folio 69r) appears as a typical T-O map placed within a modified ellipse. 

Image 2: Northern habitable region of the earth on the Macrobian map. The inhabited world (oikoumene) with T-O pattern. (HAB, Cod. Guelf. 1 Gud. lat., fol. 69v), Lizenz: CC BY SA 4.0

This segment of Lambert’s mappa mundi provides a host of geographical placenames and other features that elevate its importance and contributions. Most of the provincial names and labels are drawn from typical sources like Capella and Orosius. The top of this segment depicts paradise with its four distinctive rivers flowing into Asia. Uniquely, Lambert links paradise with stories of Elijah and Enoch, perhaps drawing on the Alexandrian romances that surface in other parts of the map. Lambert does not hesitate to speculate in his attempt to reconstruct a world he envisions as distinctly spherical. In a curious circle just beneath the ecumenical ellipse he refers to a group he labels “our antipodes” (hic antipodes nostri). 

Image 3: Detail at bottom of T-O northern map (see image 1), noting “hic antipodes n[ost]ri.”

According to Lambert, the inhabitants of this shared northern expanse of the hemisphere only differ from those living in the traditional oikoumene in that they experience night and day at opposite times. Inserting this claim into a small circle beneath the known regions of the world seems merely suggestive on the part of Lambert, as the Macrobian structure of the map does not provide space for added elaboration. Although these unknown inhabitants of the earth-sphere are labeled as “antipodes”, in the traditional language of Crates of Mallus (2nd c. BCE), they would represent the “perioeci”, or those dwelling alongside of those within the “oikos”.

The opposite zone of Lambert’s Macrobian map features a rather different understanding of the “antipodes”, and the nature of the world.

Image 4: Southern half of the Macrobian world map (see image 1), noting the region and inhabitants “unknown to the sons of Adam.” (HAB, Cod. Guelf. 1 Gud. lat., fol. 70r), Lizenz: CC BY SA 4.0

The two sections of the sphere depicted on the mappa mundi are divided not just by folio leaves of the manuscript, but by the impassable world ocean that has isolated these regions. Lambert’s inscription makes it clear that this southern temperate zone (Plaga australis temperata) is completely unknown and even inaccessible to the “sons of Adam” (Sed filiis Ade incognita). Discussion of these two distinct categories of antipodes is a unique and perplexing feature of this world map. Alfred Hiatt argues here that Lambert has employed a “balancing act” among authorities who supported notions of the antipodes (Capella and Macrobius) and those who contested their existence or even their humanity (Isidore of Seville and Augustine of Hippo).

Returning to the far more recognizable features of the oikoumene, Lambert’s map sketches the contours of Asia (above the cross bar of the T), Africa (to the right of the center line that marks the Mediterranean), and Europe (to the left of center). The place names appearing in Europe reflect labels from antiquity. All of them are provincial or territorial, with one exception: Roma in Italy (Italia). The European quadrant of the T-O insert provides the natural bridge to Lambert’s regional map – Europa Mundi Pars Quarta – that appears later in the Liber Floridus.

Image 5: Map of Europe (Europa mundi pars quarta), expands on the T-O map of the oikoumene. (Universiteitsbibliothek, Ghent, MS 92, fol. 241r), Lizenz: CC BY SA 4.0

Lambert’s map of Europe may be found only in the Ghent manuscript of the Liber Floridus, which has been established as the autograph of his work (Universiteitsbibliothek, Ghent, MS 92). The Wolfenbüttel manuscript (1 Gud. lat.), while lacking the focused map of Europe, still provides the most sophisticated mappa mundi (Spera Geometrica) and this larger map shares many features of the Ghent manuscript’s Europe map. Lambert provides the map in a supplement to the actual text of the Liber Floridus and according to Delorez, it may be regarded as the very first map of Europe. Rome appears prominently in the upper right corner of the map, recalling its religious and political power. Both Italy in the upper part of the map, and Iberia in the lower part, are somewhat separated from the rest of Europe by familiar mountain ranges. Bright and distinctive red lines appear on the map marking the perimeter of the Holy Roman and Frankish Empires. Again, Delorez suggests that this is the first occurrence of political boundaries on a map of Europe. Rivers course through central Europe, more to mark separation of territories than to provide geographical insights. The Rhine is most distinctive as it flows from the Alps to the North Sea not far from Lambert’s Flemish homeland (Flandria). The Danube winds its way through now Eastern Europe, but the rivers of Saxony are entirely indistinguishable. What one could envision today as Lower Saxony features a cluster of river mouths that all seem to be linked to the Danube (Histria).

Image 6: Detail on map of Europe (see image 5) showing Saxony, Lower Saxony, Germania and rivers of Central Europe, e.g. Danube River and Rhine River

Overall, Lambert has provided two important cartographical contributions in this collection – the Liber Floridus – that some have described as the first illustrated encyclopedia. First, he has sketched an imaginative world map that stretches the boundaries of the known world in the twelfth century. Then, in his Europe map, Lambert has shifted his attention to a region more familiar and more important to himself and his readers. He provides an important attempt to depict local space. His map of Europe is not merely an itinerary – like so many other local maps – but a broader conception of a region.

Some four hundred years later, the Cologne cartographer Caspar Vopel (1511–1561) also wrestled with broader of notions of the world and with the details of regional map-making. Uniquely, the Herzog August Bibliothek holds two of Vopel’s most significant works: a copy of his world map, Nova et integra universalisque orbis totius iuxta germanum neotericorum traditionem descriptio (originally dated to 1545), and the first edition of his Rhineland map, Recens et germana bicornis a vvidi Rheni omnium Germaniae amnium celeberrimi descriptio (1555).

A trained mathematician connected with the University of Cologne, Vopel began his work as a cartographer making globes and astronomical instruments. His celestial globes have been recently investigated by Elly Dekker (see below). Vopel published his first world map in 1545, but all the original prints have been lost. Fortunately, his work survives in two important copies: one reprinted in 1558 by the Venetian Giovanni Andrea Valvassore (c. 1490/1500–1572, Houghton Library, Harvard University, sig. 51*-2577P); and the copy at the HAB, reprinted in Antwerp in 1570 by Bernard van den Putte (1528–1580, sig. K 3,5).

Image 7: World map attributed to Caspar Vopel (1545). This reprint by Bernard van den Putte in Antwerp, 1570, only known copy in Wolfenbüttel (HAB, K 3, 5), Lizenz: CC BY SA 4.0

The world is presented in the modified cordiform style of Martin Waldseemüller’s Universalis cosmographiae secundum Ptolomaei traditionem et Americi Vespucii alioru[m]que lustrationes (1507), the first world map to represent the Americas as a separate continent. Like the earlier Waldseemüller map, van den Putte’s woodcut reprint of Vopel’s large wall map used twelve folio sheets (105 x 195 cm).

Fifteenth century explorations rounding the Cape of Good Hope in southern Africa and across the Atlantic had shattered the imago mundi that shaped the world of Lambert of Saint-Omer and his Liber Floridus. Like other early modern cartographers, Vopel filled his map with images of ships and explorers, discarding notions of the impassable world ocean to the south and moving into the regions Lambert had theorized as “our antipodes”. Likewise, rounding South America’s Cape Horn, Vopel celebrates the Spanish explorer Ferdinand Magellan (1480–1521), as he rides a sea monster into the “sea of Neptune”.

Image 8: Detail on the Vopel world map (see image 7) showing Ferdinand Magellan, riding a sea monster in the “Maris Neptunus” or Pacific Ocean

More than Spain alone, Vopel celebrated the vast empire of Charles V (1500–1558), spanning the seas and reaching across the vast known world and into unknown regions. Vopel dedicated the map to Emperor Charles and placed an image of his coronation – with connections to Cologne – near the center of his map. The enthroned Charles V appears in the Atlantic Ocean, just above the line marking the Tropic of Cancer.

Image 9: Vopel world map (see image 7) image of Charles V enthroned, above the red-line Tropic of Cancer in the Atlantic Ocean (Oceanus Occiduus)

At the top of the map, the printer has placed another image of Charles V, this time holding his sword and a globe, and framed by a banner that reads, “This hemisphere has been given truly to Charles V emperor of the Romans and king of Spain” (Hemisp[haerium] hoc Carolo V Roma[norum] Impe[ratori] et Hispania[rum] regi cedit).

Image 10a: Image at top of Van den Putte print of the Vopel world map (see image 7) depicting Charles V and an explorer, perhaps Magellan, next to an image of the western hemisphere.

The western hemisphere appears between Charles and an unnamed explorer, in a style similar to the image at the top of the Waldseemüller world map. The explorer on this print, however, is not Amerigo Vespucci (1454–1512), but more likely, Magellan. The images and labels at the top of van den Putte’s print of the map also differ from that of Valvassore. On the Valvassore printed map, the two figures astride the western hemisphere are labeled: Solinus (3rd or 4th c. CE) to the left (in place of Charles), and Strabo (c. 63 BCE–23 CE) to the right.

Image 10b: Image at top of the Valvassore print of the Vopel map (1558), with Solinus and Strabo next to image of western hemisphere (51-2577. Houghton Library, Harvard University) , Lizenz: Public Domain

Likewise, on the Valvassore map, he has placed and labeled two geographers from antiquity alongside an image of the eastern hemisphere, which includes the traditional oikoumene: Pomponius Mela (1st c. CE) and Ptolemy (2nd c. CE). On the van den Putte map, similar figures appear, perhaps Mela and Ptolemy, but the print includes the inscription, “This hemisphere given to the King of Portugal” (Hemisphaerium hoc regi Lusi-ta cedit).

Overall, these differences would suggest that the van den Putte print is the more authentic representation of Vopel’s original 1545 map. The map was clearly intended to accentuate the claims of Charles V granted earlier in the Treaty of Tordesillas (1494) and partially forged by his grandparents. The city of Cologne and its renowned university had remained fiercely loyal to Charles during the 1540s, while its current archbishop, Elector Hermann von Wied (1477–1552), attempted to introduce reforms inspired by Luther and his allies. Vopel’s world map dedicated to Charles V helped reinforce claims that the university stood squarely alongside the emperor and his attempts to suppress religious innovations. A lengthy cartouche directed to readers of the map explained some of the circumstances surrounding its creation and publication.

Image 11: Cartouche on the Valvassore print (1558) (see image 10b) of the Vopel world map explaining his dedication to Emperor Charles V and why the cartographer linked North America directly to Asia. (51-2577. Houghton Library, Harvard University, map sheet 8), Lizenz: Public Domain

Vopel mentions here the emperor’s visit to Cologne (1543) that provided the opportunity to discuss the nature of far western lands with experts from “Castile”. Specifically, Vopel wanted to know if these lands, notably “Newfoundland, Florida, New Spain, and America” were contiguous with the lands of the East (Baccalariam, Floridam, Hispaniam Novam atque Americam coniunctos habere limites cum orientalibus).

In his desire to please his sovereign, Vopel followed advice that introduced a notable flaw into his impressive world map. According to Vopel’s cartouche, Emperor Charles heard about the discussion and offered his opinion that these western lands, discovered largely by Spanish explorers, were in no way “cloven apart by the sea” but clearly “joined to the oriental lands”. And so, on his map, Vopel constructed a massive land bridge linking North America directly to Asia. The misinformation contained on Vopel’s massive land bridge appears very clearly in a section (map sheet 1) that placed New Spain (Hispania Nova) directly beneath the legendary Mangi of China, the Kingdom of Cathay (Cathay R.), and Greater Asia (Asia Magna).

Image 12: Detail on Vopel world map (see image 7) falsely showing direct connection of North America (Hispania Nova) to Asia (Cathay R. and Asia Magna).

This land connection of North America with Asia continues as India Orientalis, in the top right corner of map sheet 1 and trails into India Extra Gan[gem] in the top left corner of map sheet 4. Vopel’s major cartographical blunder may explain why early prints of the map disappeared. Even van den Putte’s 1570 reprint had to face formidable market competition when it appeared the same year as Abraham Ortelius’s atlas, Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, with a much more plausible map of the world.

While Vopel’s foray into making world maps proved to be a failure, his shift to regional cartography won him ongoing acclaim. In 1555 he published his map of the Rhine, dedicating this map to the city council of Cologne. Ortelius even included “Caspar Vopellius Medebach” in the renowned Catalogus auctorum of his 1570 edition of the Theatrum, principally for his maps of Europe and the Rhineland. The only surviving copy of the original 1555 map is held in the collection of the HAB (map R 9).

Image 13: Section of Vopel map of the Rhineland showing the Netherlands and river mouth at the North Sea (HAB, R 9), Lizenz: CC BY SA 4.0

It appears on three woodcut sheets (total dimension, 37.5 x 150 cm) and has been colored by hand. A subsequent edition or reprinting appeared in 1558 (this one officially dedicated to the electors and princes of the Rhineland), then republished in 1560.

In his title to the map, Vopel names the Rhine River as “Bicornis” or two-horned, drawing perhaps on the poet Vergil (70–19 BCE). For Vergil, the river separated Roman Gallia from alien Germania, or a river that divided kingdoms and empires. Even on Lambert’s early map of Europe, the red-lined boundary of the Rhine River continued to separate the Kingdom of the Franks from the Empire of the Germans. However, this fundamental division of “France” and “Germany” was really less important to Vopel as he depicted the host of grand territories and petty states that bordered the Rhine and its tributaries. On Vopel’s map, the river flows from the Swiss mountains on the left side of the map, to the North Sea on the far-right side, giving the map its distinctive westward orientation. At the two ends of the map, Vopel has relied on the work of others, notably the Swiss cartographer Aegedius Tschudi (1505–1572) for the Upper Rhine, and Jacob van Deventer (c. 1505–1575) for the Lower Rhine and the Netherlands. In charting the middle regions of the Rhine, and the area around his home region of Cologne, Vopel draws on his own expertise. The crests of the great Rhineland electors—the Palatinate, Mainz, Cologne, and even Trier—punctuate the course of the great river, accompanied by the insignia of other powerful princes. The Electorate of Cologne does not center the map, but one’s attention is attracted almost immediately to the crests of the great imperial city, Colonia Agrippina, and the residence of the Elector in neighboring Bonn.

Image 14: Detail of Vopel Rhineland map (see image 13) with Electorate and City of Cologne

 The lower edges of the map, along the far-right side skirt the important principalities and cities of Lower Saxony. Only the county of Bentheim makes an appearance on Vopel’s map, couched along its eastern boundary.

Image 15: Detail on the edge of the Vopel map of Rhineland (see image 13), with reference to County of Bentheim (and Uelsen) in Lower Saxony

Overall, the map remains an impressive cartographical achievement and continues to invite a careful viewing of the cities, territories, and geographical features laid out so carefully by Vopel.

Attempts to depict global space remained rather elusive for these two cartographers, Lambert of Saint-Omer and Caspar Vopel. Contemporary global positioning devices provide handy ways to navigate our world, but our understanding of the earth-sphere still manifests limitations. Refining our global vision continues to call for the best of human ingenuity. The success of these cartographers in addressing and depicting particular regions that were more familiar to them redirects our attention to the communities and territories that shape our lives. Finding innovative ways to recast boundaries and to chart the human experience calls for the best cartographical instincts in all of us.

Bibliography/ Sources to Consult

Elly Dekker, “Caspar Vopell’s Ventures in Sixteenth Century Celestial Cartography,” in Imago Mundi 62, 2 (2010), 161-190; also link:

Albert Derolez, The Making and Meaning of the Liber Floridus: A Study of the Original Manuscript, Ghent University Library MS 92 (London: Harvey Miller Publishers, 2015).

Christian Heitzmann, Europas Weltbild in alten Karten: Globalisierung im Zeitalter der Entdeckungen (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2006)

Christian Heitzmann and Patrizia Carmazzi, eds., Der Liber Floridus in Wolfenbüttel: Eine Prachthandschrift über Himmel und Erde (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 2014)

Alfred Hiatt, Terra Incognita: Mapping the Antipodes Before 1600 (London: British Library, 2008).

Jeffrey Jaynes, Christianity Beyond Christendom: The Global Christian Experience on Medieval Mappaemundi and Early Modern World Maps (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2018).

Caspar Vopellius: Rheinkarte von 1555, facsimile, Traudl Seifert, ed. (Stuttgart: Müller und Schindler, 1982); also, link to 1558 ed.:

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