In 1533, hundreds of dragons were reported to darken the skies over Bohemia, following a 1506 sighting of a blinding bright comet slicing over the sky.
The book with its 169 pages and vibrant illustrations was surprisingly intact when it went to auction in 2007 in Munich, and after it was sold to James Faber, a London-based dealer, it was revealed to be even more mysterious than previously believed, and about a century older. The book dates to the 1550s in the Swabian Imperial Free City of Augsburg, now part of the Bavarian region of Germany. Despite their age, the visuals feel oddly recent, like something that could have come out of the Symbolist movement with its vibrant embrace of the fantastic.
The terrifying tale is bookended by Noah’s Ark and proceeds all the way to the apocalypse as foretold by the Book of Revelation. Hyperallergic welcomes comments and a lively discussion, but comments are moderated after being posted.
Hyperallergic is a forum for serious, playful and radical thinking about art in the world today. About 1830 the canoness, Charlotte von Lasperg, discovered a rolled manuscript map on a shelf in a wet and windowless storeroom where liturgical utensils dating from before the Reformation, and no longer used, were kept.
The map today exists only in a post-war reconstruction based on various 19th and early 20th century reproductions of it. There was text around the map, which included descriptions of animals, the creation of the world, definitions of terms, and a sketch of the more common sort of T and O map with an explanation of how the world is divided into three parts. The sources drawn upon by the cartographer are varied and cover a considerable span of time. In addition to the classical and religious sources, the author also shows familiarity with some writings current in his time, such as Johannes of Wurzburg (ca. The major design feature upon which the Ebstorf map is based is the classic T-O scheme (see #205), but with elaborate additions of both a fabulist and religious nature. Slightly lower down and to the west the map-maker has placed the country of the Amazons, guarded by two doughtily armed queens. Still further westwards, under Christa€™s right hand, stand the flaming altars of Alexander which mark the northern extremity of the world as it was known to the ancients. Wilma George describes, in what she labels the Oriental Region, the array of zoological information to be found on this pictorial encyclopedia. The map shows a few fish in the eastern part of the circumfluent ocean, and an image of a huge sea serpent eating a stag just northeast of Paradise (see the first figure above). AFRICA: This continent is depicted as little more than a segment of a circle, its north and west coasts extending in an almost straight line from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic, while its south and east coasts describe a shallow curve. Approaching the eastern tip of the continent, the Nile disappears into the sand; but it emerges to flow in the opposite direction through Egypt, first skirting the region of MeroA« (inhabited by dwarfs who ride on crocodiles). EUROPE: On this more familiar continent, there are none of the mythical and monstrous figures that are seen in the more remote regions of Africa and Asia.
Some scholars, such as Beazley, dismiss this map as merely a gross exaggeration of the already unscientific medieval cartography.
Curiously enough, one must consider that, like many of the other significant maps and texts of the so-called Dark Ages, the Ebstorf map serves also as an aid to our understanding of the period of great discoveries which began some two centuries after its completion.
What has divided scholarly opinion has not been so much the place of origin of the Ebstorf mappamundi as its date and the authorship. It was, then, to satisfy hungry minds and thirsty ears with reliable information [oculata fide] that we appended this summary of the natural order and situation of the provinces, as they are distributed through the three parts of the world, so adding to the accuracy of our picture; for we are aware that the very variety of painters has resulted in the production of pictures which depart from the truth of the localities themselves - those pictures which are commonly called mappaemundi - since very often the painter, like any kind of witness mars by the falsity of a part the whole formulation of his evidence, when he adds material of his own . On the whole, book illustrations tend to be well preserved and to survive, yet not one of the thirty known manuscripts of Gervasea€™s Otia imperialia contains a map. According to Armin Wolf, underlying both Gervasea€™s Otia imperialia and the Ebstorf map is the ancient Greek theory of microcosm and macrocosm, according to which each human being embodied the world, while the world took the form of a gigantic man.
Bagrow, Leo, History of Cartography, Plate XXII (Gog and Magog confined by Alexander the Great, feasting human flesh and drinking blood; The Garden of Paradise with Adam and Eve), Plate XXIII (Lower Saxony, showing the region where the map was made). SchnelbA¶gl, Fritz, Dokumente zur NA?rnberger Kartographie (NA?rnberg: Selbstverlag der Stadtbibliothek, 1966), 45 (German lands, Francia orientalis). Delumeau, Jean, History of Paradise: The Garden of Eden in Myth and Tradition, University of Illinois Press, 2000, 288 pp. Dumrese, Hans, EinfA?hrung in die Betrachtung der Ebstorfer Weltkarte (LA?neburg: Peters, 1954). Hoogvliet, M., a€?The Mystery of the Makers, Did Nuns Make the Ebstorf Map?a€?, Mercatora€™s World, Volume 1, Number 6, pp.
Ohnsorge, W., a€?Zur Datierung der Ebstorfer Weltkarte,a€? Niedersaechsisches Jahrbuch fA?r Landesgeschicgte 13 (1961), 158-185. Ruge, Walter, a€?Alteres kartographisches Material in deutschen Bibliotheken,a€? Nachrichten der K. SchnelbA¶gl, Fritz, Dokumente zur NA?rnberger Kartographie (NA?rnberg: Selbstverlag der Stadtbibliothek, 1966), 44.
Staszewski, J., a€?Polska i Baltyk na mapie swiata z Ebsdorfua€? [Poland and the Baltic Sea on the Mappa Mundi of Ensdorf], Zeszyty Geograficzne Wyzszej Szkoly Pedagogicznej w Gdansku 4 (1962). Uhden, Richard, a€?Die A¤ltesten Verfahren der Erdkreisteilung,a€? Petermanns Mitteilungen, 1930, 126.


Uhden, Richard, a€?Zur Herkunft und Systematik der mittelalterlichen Weltkarten,a€? Geographishe Zeitschrift.
Woodward, David, a€?Reality, Symbolism, Time, and Space in Medieval World Maps,a€? Annals of the Association of American Geographers 75 (1985), pp. Were these foreboding occurrences signs of the apocalypse, or just a lot of Renaissance hearsay?
As a clever touch, the Taschen version also includes the reverse sides of each gouache and watercolor image with its scrawled description, and it’s all preceded by art historical essays by Till-Holger Borchert and Joshua P. No one knows who commissioned the book’s creation, or why, but it reads like a registry of horror.
In fact, despite all the frenzy of unbelievable sights, The Book of Miracles‘ anxiety is very much based in the real religious tension happening in Europe in the 16th century. Astral events and natural disasters do make appearances, with the aforementioned earthquake as well as hellish hail storms and floods, but it’s always with a heavy amount of hallucinatory whimsy.
In 1888 the map was restored at the Kupferstichkabinett in Berlin, and the 30 goatskins on which the map was painted were taken apart. Photographs taken at the time of the 1888 restoration have not survived, but Ernst Sommerbrodt reproduced them in 1891 as an atlas of collotypes (Lichtdruck), half the size of the original (the volume measures 48 by 64 centimeters and contains 25 collotype plates).
It may possibly have been used as an altar piece at one time, a€?no doubt intended both for instruction and for pious meditation upon the endless miracles wrought by Goda€?. Can this depiction be attributed to Adam of Bremena€™s reference to Finland as a terram feminarum - the land of the women? According to Van Duzer, this sea serpent derives from Honorius Augustodunensis, Imago mundi 1.12, who mentions huge serpents in India that can eat stags and swim across the ocean. Not only are the rivers Elbe and Weser shown, but also included are their smaller tributaries, the Ilmenau, the Leine with its tributary the Innerste, the Aller with the Oker and even the tiny Gosea€”all correctly ordered.
Gervasea€™s book not only contains a description of the whole earth (tocius orbis descriptio), but also, and most importantly in the present context, it appears to have been the latest work of all those used in the compilation of the Ebstorf map.
This seems to imply that the map was no miniature within the book, but a separate map accompanying it. Raymond, a€?New light on some medieval maps,a€? The Geographical Journal, London, XV (1900), pp.
RA¶mische Reisewege an der Hand der Tabula Peutingeriana (Stuttgart: Strechker und SchrA¶der, 1916), XXXVIII.
Miller, Die Ebstorfkarte] Petermanns Mitteilungen, Gotha, XLVI (1900), Literaturbericht, pp. Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften zu GA¶ttingen, Philologisch-historische Klasse, GA¶ttingen, 1904, Heft I, 3. The arguments for Gervase of Tilburya€™s being the mapmaker are based on the name a€?Gervasea€?, which was an uncommon name in Northern Germany at the time, and on some similarities between the world views of the mapmaker and Gervase of Tilbury. Gog and Magog are shown on the Ebstorf map as cannibals; they are pictured in the midst of a northeastern area walled-off by mountains through which a passage, named Porte Caspie, leads. Noah's Ark is shown perched on top of the twin peaks of Ararat and Noah is depicted with open arms welcoming the white dove, which has returned with an olive branch in its beak. The impressions of the world, therefore, recorded by the scientific attitude of Ptolemy and those in the Ebstorf map, both lie, though at different depths, in the twilight zone between experience and dream. In the 16th century a diligent scribe and artist chronicled these and other portents of woe in a book that was only rediscovered a few years ago.
Yet it’s not unlike what was happening with all areas of life, from exploration to science, where with more and more uncovered in the world from new species to new lands, anything seemed possible. In this dismembered form the map was stored out of public sight in the State Archives in Hanover until in 1943 when it was destroyed during a World War II air raid. Five years later, Konrad Miller published both a colored and a black-and-white lithograph based on a hand-drawn copy.
As learned man undoubtedly acquainted with classical literature, Adam may have implied himself that these were indeed the same Amazons, as mentioned in the Alexander Romance. There is also a legend divided among three islands in the Persian Gulf which reads: Tres insule, in quibus ydri marini vicinorum cubitorum existunt, that is, a€?Three islands, in which there are sea serpents twenty cubits long,a€? but there is no representation of the serpents. Such detailed local knowledge links the production of the map with the area of Ebstorf in general. An Examination of Cartography in Relation to Culture and Civilization (Prentice Hall, 1972), pp. The editors of the Oxford Medieval Texts edition of Gervase of Tilburya€™s Otia Imperialia conclude that although their being the same man is an a€?attractive possibilitya€?, to accept it requires a€?too many improbable assumptionsa€?. The map also draws most lavishly of all upon Christian sources.A  The Scriptures, the Fathers of the Church, the holy legends, and all the other elements of this magnificent synopsis of early medieval cosmography are made to fit into the Christian horizon.
1072) in Northwest Europe.A  Other near contemporary sources include the maps and legends from the Imago Mundi of Honorius Augustodunensis (ca.
The creatures are eating human body parts (recognizable as feet and hands) and drinking the blood flowing out of them; a footless, handless victim is also depicted. For modern man it may seem somewhat alienating that geography is the least important aspect on medieval maps, on which biblical and mythical narratives are embedded into an ahistorical world order.


Each of them bears noble witness, in its own great cultural epoch, to a great historical process with many ups and downs, to mana€™s growing awareness of the world around him. The colored version accompanies Konrad Miller, Mappaemundi, Die altesten Weltkarten, Heft 5: Die Ebstorfkarte.
Even more significantly, the map contains a vignette of the church and the graves of the martyrs of Ebstorf (Ebbekestorp), which ties it specifically to that small nunnery in particular. One manifestation, large and immediately evident, is the depiction of Christa€™s head, feet and hands at top and bottom, and left and right of the eartha€™s circumference.
Whereas the Ebstorf map measured 3.57 meters [12 feet] in diameter, the mural map in the church of Saint-Silvain at Chalivoy-Milon, Cher, France, dating from the second quarter of the 12th century, was six meters in diameter.
1129) and various tales of the 11th and 12th centuries such as that of the island discovered by St.
According to the caption, Alexander enclosed two wild nations, Gog and Magog, who will be the companions of Antichrist.
As fanciful as many depictions and the abstracted land mass may appear at first, some very tangible information can be deduced by pursuing an interdisciplinary ethnographic, archaeological and historical approach, demonstrating that not every fanciful adornment is in fact a chimaera of a bored silver-haired monk. The creator often seems to be conflating reported incidents, but also trying to connect them, like an early conspiracy theorist plotting the lines to a certain impending doom.
In fact, most modern scholars agree on the mapa€™s origin in Ebstorf, or at least for its having been made for Ebstorf, although the monastery of St Michael at LA?neburg (Rosien, Jaitner), not far away, and Hildesheim (DrA¶gereit), have also been suggested.
The second is a small vignette at the center of the map that shows Christa€™s body rising from the dead and emerging from the tomb in Jerusalem.
Miller transcribed and discussed the texts within the circle of the map proper, but not those outside it.
Particularly in the northern fringes of the Baltic Sea several places along the shore received female names, which were commonly understood as taboo by superstitious seafarers.
For those who argue for an early date (Uhden, Rosien, DrA¶gereit, Wolf, Schaller, Hucker), the connection between the map and the English-born Gervase of Tilbury is crucial.
Compared with the few similar representations of Christ on world maps, the Ebstorf map is unique in positioning Christa€™s body not outside the world (as on the Hereford map #226) or behind (as on the two sides of the Psalter map (#223) in London, and in a fresco in the cloister of the Campo Santo, Pisa), but within the world, at its four edges.
It was originally a€?founda€? about 1160 and, after a fire, was a€?refounda€? between 1175 and 1209 at a Benedictine nunnery that was transformed into a Lutheran convent during the Reformation.
Then, in 1930, Augustus Kropp created a hand-colored set of Sommerbrodta€™s plates that is still preserved in the School of Agriculture Ebstorf. Those who prefer to see the map as a later construction (most recently Wilke and Kugler) dispute Gervasea€™s authorship.
As Gervase himself put it: a€?Finally, man is called a world [In summa homo mundus appellatur]. The travel reports of Christian seafarers mentioning a a€?land of the womena€? may have been associated by clergymen with Amazons. Isidore of Seville attempted to do with mere words, to describe the sum total of accumulated knowledge about mana€™s habitat, the world, resulting in a comprehensive pictorial encyclopedia, albeit through the rather narrow focus of a religious context.
However, its real historical value lies in other areas and, viewed in terms of the cartographera€™s intent, this map does demonstrate genuine historical value. And the Greek calls man a microcosm, that is, a miniature world [Et graecus hominem microcosmum hoc est minorem mundum appellabat]a€™.
On the other hand, charges of cannibalism leveled against the Jews of Fulda in 1235 provide a vivid backdrop to the cannibalism on the Ebstorf map suggesting that the identification of Gog and Magog with Jews was not merely literary, but spilled over into real life. From wherever Gervase obtained his knowledge of the ancient Greek theory of microcosm-macrocosma€”a possible source would have been Isidorea€™s De rerum naturaa€”the points are that Gervase reiterated it in his book, clearly identifying himself with it, and that the Ebstorf map is the only mappamundi known that followed it. The first post-war reconstructions were made between 1951 and 1953 by the artist Rudolf Wieneke, who produced four identical copies, each a close replica of the original, all executed on the same kind of material (vellum) with the same dimensions and shape, and in the same colors (insofar as these could be identified) as the original mappamundi.
Other medieval mapmakers would also have read Isidorea€™s text, but none portrayed the earth as the body of Christ. Two of the reconstructions are on public display, one in the convent of Ebstorf, the other in the Museum des FA?rstentums LA?neburg. Another parallel between Gervasea€™s Otia imperialia and the Ebstorf map is worth pointing out. Finally, in 2007, Hartmut Kugler and his colleagues published a half-sized version of the map in the form of 61 segments in an atlas, together with a transcription of all the Latin texts on the map, a German translation, and a comprehensive commentary. In the Otia imperialia, the passages referring to the concept of microcosm and macrocosm are found in the first chapter of the first book, which deals with the creation of the world [De origine mundi et eius creatione et quot modis dicitur mundus]. As can be seen, a few sheets were already missing, therefore, in order to facilitate the mapa€™s preservation, it was re-divided into its separate sheets.



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