Tabula Terre Nove

Dublin Core


Tabula Terre Nove


South America


This map, "Tabula Terre Nove," was produced by German cosmographer Martin Waldseemüller in the year 1522. It was one Waldseemüller's many contributions to the 16th century editions of Ptolemy's atlas "Geographia." It is among the first ever depictions of the so-called "new world" ("Terra Nova" in Latin) on a European map, and the first ever to focus specifically on the Western Hemisphere. It is also the first map to show an isthmus joining North and South America. Terra Nova had first been systematically explored by Europeans in the late 15th century, and it quickly became a subject of fixation for cartographers. Though Waldseemüller had previously named the new land "America" after Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci, he opted against that label in "Tabula Terre Nove." He felt that naming the entire continent after Vespucci was an undeserved honor, and wanted to give more credit to Christopher Columbus. To that end, a block of text on the map in Latin indicates that the map is based on the discoveries of "Cristoferum Columbum" from commands issued by the King of Castille. The map features the flag of Castille & Leon, demarcating islands which have been named after Spanish royalty.


Martin Waldseemüller


Published by Johannes Schott in the 1522 edition of Ptolemy's Geographia atlas




Matthew Jordan


Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 License


Full-sized digital item can be found in McMaster's Digital Archive at:


29 x 38 cm, on sheet 40 x 52 cm. Hand coloured.








North & South America, Western Europe, Western Africa

Still Image Item Type Metadata

Original Format

Printed 16th century map

Physical Dimensions

40 x 52 cm

Contributor's Research

In the early 16th century, European mapmaking was a burgeoning industry (Staatsbibliothek, 1992). Christopher Columbus had shaken Europeans’ conception of the world when he found Caribbean islands while in search of India. After Columbus’ journeys, many explorers travelled to the so-called “New World” in order to find trade routes, claim land on behalf of monarchs, and systematically investigate the foreign geography. Accurate maps were an invaluable resource for these explorers, so cartographers from all over Europe produced new maps, revised old maps, and published atlases in droves. One such cartographer was Martin Waldseemüller, whose map ""Tabula Terre Nove"" (“New World Map”) was first printed in the 1513 edition of Ptolemy’s Geographia atlas . A more colorful edition of the map was included in the 1522 edition, and this version is stored in the McMaster Rare Maps archive (Waldseemüller, 1522). ""Tabula Terre Nove"" shows the west coast of Africa and Europe, the Antilles Islands, and the east coast of North & South America. The latter features dominate the map frame, making this the first map to focus specifically on the New World. But how does this map compare to other maps of its era, and in what ways did it draw on or modify details from maps that came before it?

The first map to undisputedly include the Americas was produced in the year 1500 by the Spanish cartographer and sailor Juan de la Cosa, who had participated in Columbus’ first and second voyages (Alvarez, 2003). It features islands vaguely recognizable as Cuba and Hispaniola, surrounded by a large landmass that could conceivably represent North and South America. However, the two parts of the American continent are not contiguous; instead, they are separated by a large image of Saint Christopher, which is thought to be an allusion to Columbus (Alvarez, 2003). By the time Waldseemüller started working on his Tabula Terre Nove a decade later, the Americas were known to be joined by land, and Waldseemüller’s map is the first to exhibit that feature. Waldseemüller also included Columbus iconography, and drew a large Castillian flag on Cuba, which at the time was called Isabella after the Queen. Waldseemüller actually wrote a large epigraph on his map explaining that “this land…was discovered by Christopher Columbus by command of the King of Castille” (Waldseemüller, 1522). De la Cosa’s map depicts Cuba as being hook-shaped on its eastern end, with the tip of the island being connected to the modern-day Isla de la Juventud. Waldseemüller continued this tradition and drew Cuba the exact same way, suggesting that he was using de la Cosa’s map as a source of reference (Alvarez, 2003).

The next important map that depicted the Americas is the 1502 Cantino planisphere, which was made in Portugal and was the first map to include both Spanish and Portuguese discoveries (Staatsbibliothek, 1992). In particular, the map includes a detailed depiction of Brazilian, which had first been explored two years prior. The eastern coast of Brazil is adorned with three large parrots. Similarly, the eastern Brazilian coast is the most notable feature of ""Tabula Terre Nove,"" and it retains the names of most islands, rivers, and geomorphic features from the Cantino planisphere. ""Tabula Terre Nove"" also has decorative elements on South America. In particular, there is a large opossum surrounded by cannibals roasting human body parts over a fire (George, 1969). The Cantino chart depicts a peninsula which some historians suspect could be Florida. This is surprising since the first European exploration of Florida is thought to have taken place in 1513 by Ponce de León (Staatsbibliothek, 1992). Waldseemüller’s map has a nearly identical peninsula, meaning Waldseemüller likely used the Cantino chart as a source of geographic information (Staatsbibliothek, 1992). The most striking feature of the Cantino map is the Tordesillas Line, which was a political boundary created by the Spanish and Portuguese monarchs to divvy up colonies in the New World. The Line of Tordesillas is absent from Tabula Terre Nove, but this is not surprising since Waldseemüller was writing for a German atlas and therefore did not need to include the political borders of the Portuguese Cantino map.

The third and final significant map to precede Tabula Terre Nove was a map made by Waldseemüller himself in 1507, titled ""Universalis Cosmographia."" It is a world map in the tradition of “theoretical geography,” also known as “cosmography,” which was widely practiced by German and Italian mapmakers (Nunn, 1932). Cosmographers like Waldseemüller valued completeness over accuracy, and therefore used cartographic theory to map unexplored regions. This immediately distinguishes ""Universalis Cosmographia"" from the maps that precede it, because we see both coasts of the American continent. ""Universalis Cosmographia"" is also the first map to use the word “America.” Waldseemüller chose that name to honor the Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci, who discovered that the New World comprised more than just the scattered islands Columbus had visited. Oddly enough, Waldseemüller kept very few of the elements from ""Universalis Cosmographia"" when he published ""Tabula Terre Nove"" six years later. The name “America” had vanished, and in its place was “Terra Incognita” (“Unknown Land”) as well as an inscription about Columbus. Waldseemüller decided that Columbus was more deserving of recognition than was Vespucci (Stanton, 1935). Moreover, ""Tabula Terre Nove"" does not contain the key elements of cosmography, since it only depicts the parts of Brazil that had been explored at the time.

Tabula Terre Nove was a unique map in that it was the first to focus exclusively on the newly discovered territories of the Western Hemisphere. It borrowed many elements from maps that preceded it, like the hook-shaped Cuba, the animals adorning the Brazilian coast, the recognition of Columbus, and the depiction of Florida. But it also diverges considerably from these older maps, from the isthmus connecting North and South America to the disappearance of the word “America” (though I’m quite certain that name ended up catching on). Waldseemüller’s map ultimately made an important contribution to cartography, and remains a fascinating document to this day.


Alvarez, Aldo. (2003). “Geomagnetism and the Cartography of Juan de la Cosa: A New Perspective on the Greater Antilles in the Age of Discovery.” Society for the History of Discoveries. Retrieved from

Bayerische Staatsbibliothek., Hans Wolff, and Susi Colin. (1992). “America: Early Maps of the New World.” Munich : New York: Prestel

George, Wilma B. (1969). “Animals and Maps.” London: Secker & Warburg.

Nunn, George E. (1932). “The Columbus and Magellan Concepts of South American Geography.” Glenside: Beans Library.

Stanton, Samuel Mc Coskry. (1935). “The Admiral's Map What Was It? And Who the Admiral?” Isis, 22(2), 511–515. Retrieved from

Waldseemüller, Martin. (1522). “Terra Nova : hec terracum adiacentib' insulis inuenca est p Cristoferum Columbum ianuensem ex mandato Regis Castelle.” Retrieved from

NOTE: I'm using quotation marks to denote map names.


Martin Waldseemüller, “Tabula Terre Nove,” Omeka Testbed, accessed September 26, 2017,