Lorenz Fries: Groundbreaking Renaissance Cartographer
Lorenz Fries (c. 1485 - 1532) was an Alsatian physician and mathematician, educated at the universities of Pavia, Piacenza, Montpellier and Vienna, who collaborated with Martin Waldseemüller on a project that was never completed owing to the latter’s death. Fries was fascinated with his late friend’s cartography, particularly Waldseemüller’s great atlas, Claudii Ptolemei viri Alexandrini… (Strasbourg: Johannes Schott, 1513). It featured 47 maps, of which 27 represented traditional Ptolemaic conceptions, while 20 were entirely new, modern maps.
Fries worked with Johannes Grüninger, one of Waldseemüller’s publishers, to produce a reduced-sized edition of Waldseemüller’s atlas, the first edition of which was printed in Strasbourg in 1522. Importantly, Fries’s atlas included three ‘new’ maps that were not featured in Waldseemüller’s work, a navigational World map and the first printed maps of China & Japan and Southeast Asia (being the present map). The 1522 edition of Fries’s work was evidently issued in very limited numbers, as it is today exceedingly rare.
In 1525, a second edition was published by Grüninger, with the same compliment of maps and an improved text written by the eminent intellectual Wilibald Pirkheimer, who worked from the notes of the legendary astronomer and mathematician Johannes Regiomontanus.
After Grüninger’s death in 1531, his son Christoph sold the materials for Fries’s Ptolemy to two Lyon publishers, the brothers Melchior and Gaspar Trechsel, who published a joint edition in 1535. The Trechsels hired Michael Servetus (Villanouanus), a controversial scholar who was later burned at the stake for heresy, to rework Pirkheimer’s text. This edition of the atlas was entitled Clavdii Ptolemaei Alexandrini Geographicae Enarrationis Libri Octo, of which the present example of Fries’s map was a part.
In 1541, moving production to the nearby town of Vienne, Gaspar Trechsel alone published an edition. While the original 1522 Grüninger woodblocks were used to print all four editions, and geographically the maps from each edition are the same, their border decorations were altered and (where applicable) verso text changed with each edition, so making the maps from each issue distinguishable.
Lorenz Fries’s work had an enduring legacy, as it greatly influenced the endeavours of great cartographers such as Sebastian Münster and Giacomo Gastaldi.
References: Karrow, Mapmakers of the Sixteenth Century, 28/45;