Cataracta Rheni – A terrifying view Monday, Feb 23 2015 

Sebastian Münster - Rheinfall AusschnittAlready 400 years ago, it must have been a spectacular view: Sebastian Münster, the great German Cartographer and Scholar, described it as “a terrifying thing to look at: water turns to foam and white smoke (sic), and no boat, no fish is able to overcome this obstacle” (1).

It is the Cataracta Rheni, or the Rhine Falls (“Rheinfall”) as the cataract is called today. Situated along the Swiss-German border, the largest water fall in Europe is still an impressive sight: The Rhine river drops by 23 meters to form a miniature version of the Niagara falls – both places nowadays a popular tourist attraction featuring those little boats bringing the intrepid visitors to the spectacle as close as possible.

Sebastian Münster (1488-1552) published the first edition of his Cosmographia in 1544. It was the first description of the world in German, and featured a cornucopia of illustrating woodcuts: maps, portraits,  plants and animals, not to forget the ubiquitous monsters. Although the description of the waterfall is rather precise, including the height of 12 “klafter” equaling roughtly 21 meters, the woodcut itself  is rather schematic, depicting the river as a tongue-like, solid shape.

Nevertheless, this small woodcut has been long held as simply the first pictorial representation of the Rhine Falls. Not any more.


Set of Albrecht Dürer’s “Apocalypse” woodcuts sold for $1.4 million Thursday, Nov 13 2008 

from Albect Dürer's "Apocalypse"

The National Gallery of Art has recently acquired a complete set of Albrecht Dürer’s 16 woodcuts illustrating the Apocalypse for $1.4 million. It is one of only a few surviving specimens of the 1498 edition. The New York Times article states the Swiss dealer August Laube as the seller.

The most famous woodcut of the Apocalipsis cum figuris (“Apocalypse with pictures”,”Die Heimliche Offenbarung Johannes”), which was published at the same time in Latin and in German, are the Four Horsemen, depicted here. For the first time, each of the woodcuts bears the famous AD monogram. Thirteen years later, Dürer produced a second edition, but it is apparently the first edition which causes Museum and Art Gallery directors to invest large sums of their budgets.

This website (in German) gives a fine overview of all 16 woodcuts along with some short commentaries.