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On the way to the Holy Land

Masterpieces from the VU collections

Although this is only the bottom part of a map, this fragment is very special. It is the oldest piece in the VU University Library's Maps collection and also unique because it is the only copy in the world. The Eran Laor Cartographic Collection of The National Library of Israel in Jerusalem holds the upper part of the map. Because scans of the two maps have been merged, we now also have an image of the complete map.

In memory of the Holy Land
Originally, the map consisted of six woodcuts arranged in three rows of two, forming a 60x60 cm square. The map was made by Lucas Cranach (1472-1553). He was engaged by Frederick III, Elector of Saxony, as a court painter. In 1493, the prince made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. To commemorate this journey, Cranach created the map. The elector was an important patron at the time and arranged for Cranach to have his own studio in Wittenberg. There he produced paintings, copper engravings and woodcuts. In 1529, he portrayed his friend Martin Luther.

The miracle at the Red Sea
This kind of map was also made to give pilgrims more images of Biblical stories. Pictured here is the journey of the people of Israel through the desert. The Bible book Exodus describes the story of the journey the Jews made. It begins with the Israelites' departure from Egypt. They had to cross the Red Sea to leave the land. By a miracle, part of the sea fell dry. This can be seen at the bottom left of the map. The 'Rot Lake' fell dry.
Later, an edited reduction of the map was used for several Bible editions.
The map from the National Library of Israel in Jerusalem was originally purchased from Dutch antiquarian Nico Israel. Most likely, the map fragment at the VU was also bought from him by VU administrator Mr H. Bos, who bequeathed his maps to the University Library.


  • The History of Cartography Volume 3: Cartography in the European renaissance, part 2 / ed. By David Woodward. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007. Early German maps of the Holy Land p. 1216-1218.
  • Cranach as cartographer: the rediscovered Map of the Holy Land / Armin Kunz. In: Print Quarterly, 12 (1995)2, p.123-144
  • Die Heiligland-Karte von Lucas Cranach den Älteren: das älteste Kartenfragment aus der Kartensammlung der Bibliothek der Freien Universität in Amsterdam / Lida Ruitinga.- [S.l.]: [s.n.], 1994. In: Cartographica Helvetica 1994 Heft 9, p. 40-41.
  • Die digitale Umformung von Karten als Forschungshilfe: gezeigt am Beispiel der Heiligland-Karte von Lucas Cranach und der entsprechenden Karte in der Zürcher-Froschauer-Bibel. In: Cartographica Helvetica 1994 Heft 9, P.43-44.
  • Zur Wiederauffindung der Heiligland-Karte von ca. 1515 von Lucas Cranach dem Älteren. In: Cartographica Helvetica, 1991 Heft3, p.22-27.

[Map of the Holy Land] / Lucas Cranach the Elder
View the map in the Image Bank
Scale [approx. 1:850.000]
[Wittenberg: Lukas Cranach d. Ä., after 1515]
Map (fragment): wood carving.; 20 x 60 cm.
Signature: LL.05413gk