Sea monster triton from Conrad Gessner Historia animalium

Sea monsters on ancient maps

Paper monsters and real creatures

In the enchanting realm of ancient cartography, old maps hold a treasure trove of secrets. Among the intricate illustrations and geographic marvels, one can find a fascinating array of sea monsters, creatures that once roamed the uncharted waters of exploration. The monsters depicted on old maps often come from medieval grimoires written by scholars such as Ambroise Paré, Guillaume Rondelet, Olaus Magnus and Conrad Gessner. These authors describe sea wolves, newts, mermaids and sea devils alongside real animals, and circulate in scholarly circles throughout Europe.

Simia Marina from Conrad Gessner Historiae AnimaliumHistoria animalium ("History of the Animals"), published in Zurich in 1551–1558 and 1587, is an encyclopedic "inventory of renaissance zoology" by Conrad Gessner (1516–1565). The Historia animalium, after Aristotle's work of the same name, is the first modern zoological work that attempts to describe all the animals known, and the first bibliography of natural history writings. The five volumes of natural history of animals cover more than 4500 pages
About this image : Simia Marina or sea monkey in Historiae animalium liber IIII

Ancient cartography, a blend of artistry and accuracy:

The creation of old maps was a delicate balance between artistry and geographical accuracy. As navigators explored unknown lands (Terra Incognitae), maps were refined, but the medieval wonder and the presence of sea monsters were to last for a long time.

Sea monsters are both decorative elements and a way of drawing the navigator's attention to the dangers of sailing in these areas. 

Old Islandia Map, detail

Ortelius' Sea Monster Map of Iceland.

Handsome detail of Ortelius' classic map of Iceland, one of the most decorative atlas maps of all time and the first relatively accurate map of Iceland from indigenous sources.

The map presents a fascinating collection of legendary and mythical sea monsters and creatures from the 15th and 16th centuries, accompanied by early depictions of the sea horse, manta ray, walrus, and whale. Some of the imaginative depictions might have originated from stories about St. Brendan, a sixth-century Irish missionary who, according to legend, ventured to Iceland and lent his name to a mythical island. Other illustrations can be traced back to Olaus Magnus's Carta Marina of 1539, likely influenced by Munster's Cosmographia of 1545, particularly Munster's chart showcasing the Sea and Land Creatures.

Unraveling Historical Treasures:

Old maps offer a unique glimpse into the past, allowing us to trace the footsteps of early navigators. Examine the historical significance of these maps and their impact on our understanding of the world. Learn about renowned cartographers whose works are admired to this day. Immerse yourself in the charm and mystery of these historical treasures as we decode the secrets they hold. 

Exploring the Mythical Creatures:

Old maps are adorned with imaginative sea monsters, fascinating creatures that sparked awe and curiosity in the hearts of ancient mariners. Delve into the rich tapestry of legends and myths surrounding these beasts, from the ferocious Kraken to the elusive Leviathan. Discover how these mythical creatures found their place on maps, representing uncharted territories and the dangers that awaited intrepid explorers.

If you have an adventurous soul, you'll probably want to enjoy the sight of these terrible monsters by displaying one of our maps in your intrepid home.


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