Maps After Columbus

Not until a year after Christopher Columbus died in 1506, did Amerigo Vespucci convince German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller (1470-1520) that the land Columbus discovered was a new continent. Vespucci claimed that he surveyed the American coast between 1501 and 1504.

1500 – Juan de la Cosa’s Mappa Mundi

The first cartographer to include the Americas in a world map was Juan De la Cosa. He drew his Mappa Mundi in 1500, but he thought he was drawing the east coast of Asia. We have already shown you that map. He painted it on parchment and oriented it so that east is at the top. We have rotated both the map and our tracing of it ninety degrees counter-clockwise to bring north to the top.

Juan de la Cosa, World Map, Spain, dated 1500.(1)

Juan de la Cosa drew his Mappa Mundi two years after John Cabot surveyed Newfoundland; a year after Vasco da Gama returned from India; a year after William Weston coasted today’s New England; and only months or weeks after Pedro Álvares Cabral sent reports that he discovered Brazil. De la Cosa had a lot of material to work with. But as you can see by his lack of detail for the east coast of Asia, he would have been no help to Columbus when he was trying to find the Strait of Malacca.

De la Cosa was Basque [from Viscaña aka Viscanya or Biscanya]. The Basque had been fishing in the North Atlantic for decades. De la Cosa had become an accomplished mariner and cartographer long before his employment with Columbus. He served as a cartographer again in 1493 for Columbus’ second voyage. As we mentioned, in 1499 he participated in the expedition with Alonso de Hojeda and [possibly] Amerigo Vespucci that left Andalusia [Southern Spain] and surveyed the southern Caribbean and northern part of South America. That would have been when they potentially met up with John Cabot. By then, De la Cosa’s partner in the Santa Maria, Florentine adventurer Giannotto Berardi, had died and Vespucci was the sole partner of the House of Berardi in Seville.

The threesome [or twosome] returned to Spain in 1500 with all the information Juan de la Cosa needed to draw his Mappi Mundi. He drew the South American coastline all the way from Trinidad Island to the Falkland Islands, and maybe farther. He was the first to draw the Americas as a continuous landmass from north to south. Here is a close-up of the Americas [turned ninety degrees counter-clockwise].

You can see Cuba in the center. De la Cosa indicated the island fairly accurately even though Christopher Columbus was still claiming it was a peninsula attached to Asia. It is a mystery why he covered Central America with an image of St. Christopher. Maybe he stayed away from that area because his superior, Columbus, Admiral of the Ocean Sea, was still surveying it and staking claims.

There is some speculation that Juan de la Cosa obtained a copy of the map that John Cabot was showing to everyone in King Henry’s court after his second voyage. Three men witnessed Cabot displaying that map: the two Spanish ambassadors Roderigo de Puebla and Pedro de Ayala; and Hugh Say [aka John Day]. Hugh Say wrote that he sent a copy of Cabot’s map to Columbus. Did another copy make its way to Juan de la Cosa’s studio in Spain just as the Cantino Planisphere made its way to Venice?

1502 – The Cantino Planisphere

The next map to illustrate the Americas was the planisphere stolen by the spy Alberto Cantino that we also showed you earlier.

Anonymous artist, Cantino Planisphere, Portugal, 1502.(2)

We have included the following close-up of the Iberian Peninsula so that you can see the flags that the artist used to denote each country’s possessions. As we have already described, the blue rectangle with five quinas or emblems surrounded by a red border denoted Portugal. The red and white striped flag denoted Aragon. The flag with the castles of Castile in two corners and the red and white stripes of Aragon in the other two corners denoted the combination of Castile and Aragon as Spain. Together they had conquered Andalusia.

Here is a close up of the Americas. [You are going to love the parrots.]

Items of note:

  1. The anonymous Portuguese cartographer must not have had access to the information gathered by Juan de la Cosa, Amerigo Vespucci, and Alonso de Hojeda. On the other hand, he knew a fair amount about northern Brazil.
  2. Note the peninsula to the left of Cuba where Florida is in fact located. Most history books claim that Ponce de Leon was the first to find Florida – in 1513, eleven years later.
  3. The recently deceased historian Manuel Luciano da Silva (1926-2012), in his web article, “The Biggest Lie of the Cantino Map”(3,) pointed out that the Cantino Planisphere, by naming today’s Antilles, Las Antilhas del Rey de Castellas [Portuguese for The Antillas of the King of Castile] denied Portugal’s claim to Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward’s Island in today’s Canada that Zuane Pizigano had named the Antylias in 1424. [We included this discussion in our article Henry’s Navigation Center.]

Portolan by Zuane Pizigano, 1424.(4)

1505 – The Caverio Map

The Caverio Planisphere signed by Nicolay de Caveri Januensis, c1505.(5)

The next map to appear showing the Americas was the Cavario Planisphere signed by Nicolay de Caveri Januensis, but not dated. By comparing it to other maps of the time, historians have placed its creation at around 1505.

Here is a close-up of the Americas.

Items of note:

  1. Some scholars believe Caveri copied the Cantino map, at least at some respects – note the illustration of Newfoundland. Very likely Caveri is the same artist as a Genoese cartographer working in Lisbon at the time named Canveri, who would have had access to the Cantino Planisphere.
  2. Caveri did not know that the north and south continents were connected.
  3. Scholars are impressed by how well Caveri drew the coastline between today’s Delaware River to Florida, because it is very near to the actual shape. The first documented survey of that area was made in 1523 by Giovanni da Verrazzano for the French. The Caveri map encourages speculation that John Cabot, in 1498, or William Weston, in 1499, actually sailed as far south as Florida and reported their findings to the Portuguese or Venetians before 1505. Ponce de León was not in the vicinity until 1512 or 1513. Lucas Vásquez de Ayllón did not arrive to America until 1520-1521. And Esteban Gómez did survey the area until after Verrazzano in 1525.

1507 – Martin Waldseemüller’s Map

Martin Waldseemüller’s World Map, “The Universal Cosmography according to the Tradition of Ptolemy and the Discoveries of Amerigo Vespucci and others” [Universalis cosmographia secundum Ptholomaei traditionem et Americi Vespucii aliorumque lustrations], First printed in Saint-Dié-des-Vosges, France [near Strasborg], 1502.(6)

German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller (1470-1520) gets credit for first labeling the newly found continents America on a map he drew in 1507. It is possibly the first world map showing the American continent separate from Asia with the Pacific in between. Vasco Núñez de Balboa would not lay eyes on the Pacific until 1513.

Waldseemüller produced two versions: a globular map printed in gores for wrapping on a sphere, and a wall map with twelve panels.

Five of the globular maps still exist today.

Martin Waldseemuller’s Global Map. First printed in the city of Saint-Dié-des-Vosges, France, 1507.(7)

Only one copy of the twelve-paneled wall map exists. For a long time it was thought all the wall maps were lost or had perished. Then in 1901 the copy shown below was found in southern Germany by Joseph Fischer. The Library of Congress purchased it from him for $10 million.

The map was originally based on the travels of Columbus and Amerigo Vespucci. Waldseemüller wrote, “I do not see why anyone should justifiably forbid it to be called Amerige, as in Americus’ Land, or America, from its discoverer Americus, a man of perceptive character; since both Europa and Asia have received their names from women.”

The maps were accompanied by a book called Cosmographiae Introductio [An Introduction to Cosmography]. The second part of the book contained a Latin version of a letter that scholars thought Amerigo Vespucci wrote. It was called Quattuor Americi Vespuccij Navigationes [Four Voyages of Americo Vespucci]. But later, the letter was suspected of being a forgery. In his 1513 version of the wall map, Waldseemüller changed the name of America to Terra Incognita [Unknown Land]. But by then, 1000 copies of the original showing the name as America had already been printed and distributed.

It is believed Waldseemüller based his map on the earlier maps of Ptolemy, Henrich Martellus, Martin Behaim, the Cantino Planisphere [1502], and the Caverio Map [c1503–1504].

1515-1520 Johannes Schöner’s Globe

The renowned polymath [person with a wide range of knowledge] Johannes Schöner(8) of Nuremberg created the first known globe showing the Americas. There are two extant versions. The gores for the one he created in 1515 were printed. He hand-drew a second version in 1520. Below is 1520 manuscript version.

Johannes Schöner’s hand-painted globe from 1520.(9)

Items of note:

  1. The globe shows the continent of Antarctica, which had not yet been explored.
  2. America is shown as an island. In the explanatory treatise that accompanied the globe titled A Most Lucid Description of All Lands [Luculentissima quaedam terrae totius descriptio], Schöner wrote that the earth had previously been divided into three parts: Europe, Asia and Africa. Since the extensive discovery by Amerigo Vespucci, it was known the earth had four parts. The fourth part, America, was an island since it was surrounded by sea.
  3. There is a strait between the island of America and the landmass at the bottom of the earth. Ferdinand Magellan would discover that strait in 1520.
  4. Historians who have compared Martin Behaim’s globe, which was built twenty-two years earlier in Nuremberg, believe Schöner used it as reference. Especially for the east coast of China.

Jerome Schöner’s Manuscript Globe(10) Nuremberg, 1520 and Martin Behaim’s globe, Nuremberg, 1492.

Schöner created revised versions of this globe in 1523 and 1533 as new discoveries were made.

1544 – Jerome Munster

We are including this map of the Americas by Jerome Munster because we thought it was lovely. It was produced as part of an atlas / book called Cosmographia in 1544. Munster was a German cartographer, cosmographer, and a Hebrew scholar. We do not think he was related to Jerome Muenzer.

Jerome Munster, American Continent, Germany, 1544.(11)

1635 – Willem Blaeu

By the time the Puritans sailed to New England with Governor John Winthrop, cartographers were well versed on the shapes of the American continents. This is a detail of a map drawn in 1635 by the most celebrated cartographer in the Netherlands, Willem Janszoon Blaeu (1571-1638).

World Map by Willem Janszoon Blaeu, 1635.(12)


  1. De la Cosa, Juan. World Map. Spain, 1500. {{PD-Old}} Public Domain. Obtained from wikimedia. Image source:
    Currently housed in the Museo Naval in Madrid. According to Niall Kilkenny, this map, along with a portion of the vast secret archives, was taken from the Vatican in 1810 when Napoleon invaded Rome. Napleon transferred the archives to Paris for a world library he planned to build. Not all the documents were taken back to Rome after his defeat. This map was left behind and ended up in a Paris bookshop. The original piece of ox-hide parchment measures 37.5 x 72 inches (96 X 183 cm). It is illustrated in ink and water colors. The map was re-discovered in 1832 in a shop in Paris by Baron Walckenaer, a bibliophile and the Dutch Ambassador. He brought it to the attention of Alexander Humboldt, a famous German scholar, who told the world about it. Upon the death of Baron Walckenaer in 1853, the map was purchased by the Queen of Spain. Though greatly deteriorated, it is the chief treasure of the Museo Naval in Madrid. (Ambrosini, The Secret Archives of the Vatican, p. 291).
  2. Cantino Planisphere, Portugal, 1502 {{PD-Old}} Public domain in USA, Portugal and Italy. Image source:
  3. Web article “The Biggest Lie of the Cantino Map!”, by Manuel Luciano da Silva, Medical Doctor, August 25 2003. url:
  4. Pizzigano, Zuane. “Portolan”, Venice, 1424 {{PD-Old}} Public Domain. Image source: The original of Zuane Pizigano’s portolan is in the Library of the University of Minnesota, in the collection of James Ford Bell.
  5. The Caverio Map by Nicolay de Caveri, c1505. Obtained from Wikimedia Commons. {{PD-Old} Public Domain. Currently at Bibliothèque Nationale de France in Paris. Image source:
  6. “Waldseemuller map 2” by Martin Waldseemüller – Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons. {{PD-Old}} Image source:
  7. Martin Waldseemuller, Martin. Global Map. First printed in the city of Saint-Dié-des-Vosges, France, 1507. {{PD-Old}} Public Domain. Image source:
  8. Johannes Schöner was also known as Johann Schönner, Johann Schoener, Jean Schönner, and Joan Schoenerus.
  9. Image source thanks to
  10. Schöner, Johannes. Globe, Western Hemisphere, Nuremberg, 1520. Friedrich Wilhelm Ghillany, Geschichte des Seefahrers Ritter Martin Behaim, Nürnberg, Bauer und Raspe, J. Merz, 1853. {{PD-Old}} Work in Public Domain in the USA and Germany, over 100 years old. Image source Wikimedia:
  11. Munster, Jerome. Map of the Americas, Germany, 1489-1552 {{PD-Old}} Public Domain. Image source: Wikimedia Commons.
  12. Blaeu, Willem Janszoon. World Map, Leyden, Holland, 1635. {{PD-old}} Public domain in the US and Holland. Image source: Wikimedia

Next Article: Loose Ends