Map Maker Biography: Lorenz Fries (1490 - 1531)

The talents and interests of Lorenz Fries, as those of many early cartographers, were multi-faceted. He was knowledgeable and educated in cartography, cosmography, astrology and medicine.  Born in Mulhouse, Alsace in about 1490, Fries is known to have studied medicine at the universities of Pavia, Piacenza, Montpellier and thought to have also studied in Padua and Vienna, all prestigious centers of learning. On completing his studies, he established himself as a physician at a succession of places in the Alsace region and even Switzerland before eventually settling in Strasbourg in about 1519.

Strasbourg literati

By the time he settled there he had already established himself as something of an authority in medicine due to his numerous publications on medical topics. These publications, along with several on religion and astrology, resulted in his becoming acquainted with Strasbourg printer and publisher Johann Grüninger, one of the most prolific printers of Strasbourg. Grüninger is known to have printed up to 80 books a year, a remarkable accomplishment in the sixteenth century. He was a member of the St. Die group of scholars which included, among others, Walter Lud, Martin Ringmann and Martin Waldseemüller. Grüninger is credited with printing several maps prepared by Waldseemüller, and for supervising the cutting of the maps for the 1513 edition of Ptolemy, edited by the group. Becoming part of this illustrious group of literati was of significant import in the development of Fries’ work in the field of cartography.

Change of direction

Fries’ meeting with the group led to his changing directions professionally, and for approximately the next five years he worked as a cartographic editor with Grüninger, using the enormous amount of material created and collected by Waldseemüller. Aside from this, Fries and Grüninger  undertook work on a new edition of Ptolemy’s Geographia., including three new maps of the Orient for it, all based on Waldseemüller’s 1507 map of the world. Two of the three new maps were of cartographic significance as they were the first to separately depict those places.

Tabula orbis cum descriptione ventorum, his map of the world shown below, is one of the earliest obtainable world maps which features use of the name America. Fries depicts England and Scotland as separate islands, Greenland is located north of Scandinavia, and India is depicted as a double peninsula. South America is largely based on guesswork, as Magellan did not return to Europe from his circumnavigation until September 1522, several months after this map was first published. Though Fries often based much of his work on that of Martin Waldseemüller, this map is thought to be an original by Fries. It bears his initials, and has a number of other unusual features suggesting it was of his making, including directional lines crossing the map, and a frame of banners depicting the names of the winds joined by looped coils of rope.

Fries continued to base much of his work on that of Waldseemüller, often adding annotations and vignettes to make the maps more informative and eye catching, but he published on a slightly smaller scale. Knowledge of the world was increasing with the return of each explorer, and Fries was busy gathering their information in order to depict cartographic details of those newly discovered regions and their indigenous peoples, and updating  earlier maps with the latest reported data. 

Final years

The religious turmoil in Western Europe in the early sixteenth century did not spare Fries. It is recorded that in 1525 he suddenly renounced his Strasbourg citizenship and he and his wife left the city, presumably under religious duress. Though his maps continued to be published for some time after 1525, there is no known new cartographic work attributable to him following this abrupt departure. On leaving Strasbourg he relocated first to Trier, where he is  known to have resumed his work in medicine, and finally to Metz, where he died in 1531. 

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