Universum Infinitum

— From the German Philosopher Nicolaus Cusanus (1401–1464) to the Iberian Discoveries in the 15th Century: Ocean World in European Exploration
17-18 June 2016
Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal, Lisbon


  • 14 Dec. 2016: Five reports on the meeting have been added to the new Reports Section (updated in 6 Mar. 2017).
  • 5 Jul. 2016: Photos of the meeting have been published in our Event Coverage section.
  • Previous News: The Book of Abstracts is now available for download here.


The German cardinal Nikolaus von Kues (Nicolaus Cusanus/Nicholas of Cusa, 1401–1464) is mostly known today for his elaborate philosophical work. His interesting life and voluminous opus is well documented (cf. Nicolai de Cusa opera omnia et auctoritate Academiae Litterarum Heidelbergensis ad codicum fidem edita and Acta Cusana): As one of the first proponents of Renaissance humanism Nicolaus was not only a key figure of the 15th century, with strong interest in theology, philosophy and canon law, but also in astronomy, mapmaking and particularly in cosmography. But what did the term “cosmography” mean in those days? And in what sense was the universe considered infinite? What about the intellectual and personal connections of Cusanus to the Iberian Peninsula, where scientific and technological knowledge was exchanged with the Holy Roman Empire? What role does Cusanus play in the history of science of the early modern period, on the eve of European Exploration to the Ocean world and its repercussions? And does his work already reflect the intellectual reception of the New World in Europe, which included also a spiritual expansion of the Christian world? 

Our international workshop “Universum Infinitum”. From the German Philosopher Nicolaus Cusanus (1401–1464) to the Iberian Discoveries in the 15th Century: Ocean World in European Exploration will try to give answers to some of these questions. In connection with this, the interdisciplinary conference will deal with a variety of aspects of the 15th and 16th centuries: contemporary cartography, cosmographical view of the world, humanistic thought of philosophical/theological works and natural history. For this meeting we will bring together international scholars, who are all concerned with Nikolaus von Kues and his time in a broad sense. Our speakers are experts in various areas: philosophy, (church) history, history of discoveries, theology, natural sciences, mathematics, history of instruments, cartography, cosmography and astrology – the best asset for an interdisciplinary workshop. 

The papers will be given in German, Portuguese, French or English; each presentation will be allotted 20 minutes, sufficient discussion time for the symposium participants is added. The international workshop is organized by Thomas HORST (Postdoc at the Interuniversitary Centre for the History of Science and Technology, CIUHCT, University of Lisbon) in cooperation with Prof. Dr. Harald SCHWAETZER and Dr. Matthias VOLLET (both: Kueser Akademie für Europäische Geistesgeschichte and Cusanus-Hochschule, Bernkastel-Kues/Germany). It will take place over two days (Friday and Saturday, morning and afternoon).


This International Workshop is open to all interested in the subject. Admission is free but, due to limited space, registration is required. Click below to go to our online registration form.

Register Here


The International Workshop takes place in the Auditório at the National Library of Portugal (Campo Grande 83, 1749-081 Lisbon). 


Book of Abstracts (PDF)   Programme (PDF)   Programme (DOC)

Friday / Freitag, 17.06.2016

Opening Session (Chairman: Dr. Thomas Horst)

  • Prof. Dr. Henrique Leitão (CIUHCT, Lisbon): Short Welcome Speech
  • Dr. Thomas Horst (CIUHCT, Lisbon): Introduction — The cosmographical network of Nicolaus Cusanus and German-Portuguese relations in the Humanism
  • Prof. Dr. Harald Schwaetzer (Kueser Akademie für Europäische Geistesgeschichte and Cusanus-Hochschule, Bernkastel-Kues/Germany): Cosmography as Christological Phenomenology
  • Dr. Matthias Vollet (Kueser Akademie für Europäische Geistesgeschichte, Bernkastel-Kues/Germany): Das Universum als metaphysische Größe bei Nicolaus Cusanus


Panel I: “Universum Infinitum” – Cosmology and Cosmography in the 15th Century (Chairman: Prof. Dr. Harald Schwaetzer)

  • Prof. Dr. Jean-Marie Nicolle (Rouen/France): En quel sens l’univers est-il infini?
  • Prof. Dr. Gregor Nickel (Universität Siegen/Germany): Nec finitum – nec infinitum. Erwägungen zur Kosmologie des Nikolaus Cusanus
  • Dr. Johanna Hueck (Cusanus-Hochschule, Bernkastel-Kues/Germany): Nicholas of Cusa as Cosmographer

Lunch break

Panel II: Ocean World in European Exploration — Reflection of Iberian Discoveries on texts and maps (Chairman: Dr. Samuel Gessner)

  • Prof. Dr. Jürgen Pohle (CHAM, Lisbon): Die deutsche Beteiligung an den überseeischen Expeditionen Portugals im 15. Jahrhundert: von Oswald von Wolkenstein bis Martin Behaim
  • Harald Gropp (University of Heidelberg, Germany): Writing meridians of water into the maps – from Tordesillas till Zaragoza
  • Robert King (National Library of Australia): Magnus Sinus, Java and Locach from Martellus to Mercator, 1489–1569
  • Prof. Dr. Karl Galle (Linda Hall Library, Egypt/USA): Spicing Up Natural Philosophy: Global Trade Footprints in Early Recipes and their Implications for the Exchange of Manuscripts and Ideas

Conference Dinner


Sabado / Samstag, 18.06.2016

Panel III: Constructing a new world (Chairman: Dr. Matthias Vollet)

  • Prof. Dr. José Martínez Gázquez (Barcelona): Nuevas glosas de Nicolás de Cusa al Alchoranus Latinus en el ms Vat. Lat. 4071 de la BAV
  • Dr. Davide Scotto (Tübingen University/Germany): Sifting Humanist Understandings of Islam. Peter Martyr d’Anghiera’s Worldview from the Mediterranean to the New World
  • Dr. Cristóvão S. Marinheiro (National Library of Luxembourg): Mapping a new World with ancient authors. The reception of antique authors in the De coelo by the Conimbricenses and their role in the constructing a new imago mundi


Panel IV: Intellectual practice in astronomy and astrology of the 15th Century — Cusanus and his influence on the History of Science (Chairman: Prof. Dr. Henrique Leitão)

  • Dr. Thomas Horst (CIUHCT, University of Lisbon): The Cosmographer Nicolaus Cusanus (1401–1464) and his Philosophical Game with the Globe: The Dialogus de ludo globi
  • Dr. Samuel Gessner (CIUHCT, University of Lisbon): Astronomical Instruments in the fifteenth century: the astrolabe in the Cusanusstift of Bernkastel-Kues revisited
  • Prof. Dr. Darin Hayton (USA): Astrology as Science and Politics in Maximilian’s Vienna

Discussion and formal end of the workshop
Lunch (with the possibility to informal discussions)

Tour through Lisbon with old maps with Prof. Dr. João Carlos Garcia (only for registered participants)

Sunday / Sonntag, 19.06.2016

Day Tour to Sintra, Mafra and Ericeira (together with Prof. Dr. João Carlos Garcia, only for registered participants)


Nearest underground stations to the venue (Linha Amarela/Yellow Line): Entre Campos (200 meters) and Cidade Universitária (500 meters). Train Station Entre Campos (500 meters).

Access by buses: n°207; 701; 727; 736; 738; 744; 749 and 783.

How to get there from the Airport: A simple and cheap way of getting from the airport to the city centre is by bus. The AeroBus departs from the airport every 20 minutes (from 7.00 am to 9.00 pm) to the city centre. The closest bus stop is Campo Pequeno. You can also take the metro (blue line) from the airport and change in Saldanha to the yellow line.

Going around in Lisbon: A cheap and quick way to get around the city is the subway (Metropolitano de Lisboa). It runs daily from 6.00 am to 1.00 am and you can use it with the travel card. This rechargeable card can be purchased in all transport operators point of sale and in Payshop Agents. It can be charged with a minimum of 1,50 € and a maximum of 10,00 €.


A selection of the Nearest hotels to the venue:


Coffee and Lunch will be available on the premises, at the cafeteria and the restaurant of the National Library (at the cost of the participants). Further restaurants are in the region of Entre Campos and Campo Pequeno.


Main Organisers

  • Dr. Thomas HORST (CIUHCT, University of Lisbon) — in cooperation with Prof. Dr. Harald SCHWAETZER and Dr. Matthias VOLLET (both: Kueser Akademie für Europäische Geistesgeschichte und Cusanus-Hochschule, Bernkastel-Kues/Germany) and the kind help of the “Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal” (BNP). 

Local Organising Committee
  • Dr. Thomas HORST (CIUHCT, University of Lisbon)
  • Dr. Samuel GESSNER (CIUHCT, University of Lisbon)
  • Maria Joaquina Esteves FEIJÃO (Map Room, BNP)
  • Prof. Dr. João Carlos Garcia (CIUHCT, University of Porto)

Event coverage

1. Group photo of the participants of the international workshop "Universum Infinitum", in front of the BNP

2. The organizers of the workshop in front of the little exhibition about Cusanus in the BNP

3. The main organizer Thomas Horst (CIUHCT) during the opening session

4. The international audience was very interested in the topic and gave many comments

5. Professor José Martínez Gázquez (Barcelona) during his talk about new findings of cusanic glosses in a manuscript of the BAV (Vatican Library)

6. Dr. Samuel Gessner explaining the structure of an astrolabe


7. The workshop ended with an excellent talk by the Historian of Science Darin Hayton (Harverford College/USA) 

8. The co-organizers from Bernkastel-Kues together with Maria Joaquina Esteves Feijão (Department of Cartography and Iconography, BNP)

9. One of the highlights of the social events was a walking tour with Professor João Carlos Garcia (CIUHCT/Porto) through downtown Lisbon

10. Our international participants enjoyed the Portuguese food...

11. ...as well as a visit to Mafra, where we could see the inventories of the library, which were kindly explained by Dr. Maria Teresa Amaral

12. The day-tour ended with a stop in beautiful Sintra (group photo)

Photos taken by Thomas Paul Brysch, Karl Galle, Thomas Horst and Matthias Vollet.


Contacts and further information

For further information: thomashorst@gmx.net



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