In old documents Ruysch was sometimes called a Fleming or German, but he was likely born in Utrecht in the current Netherlands. It is thought (see the Beneventanus commentary below) that he accompanied John Cabot on his expedition to North America in 1497 and 1498, or, considering the prevalence of Portuguese names on his 1507 map, a Portuguese ship leaving from Bristol. Around 1505, Ruysch probably entered the Benedictine monastery of St. Martin in Cologne as a secular priest. Soon he left for Rome, where pope Julius II gave him a dispensation concerning his priestly occupation. He presumably made his world map there in 1507, appears on payrolls in 1508 and 1509 and seems to have specialized in decorative painting. He is thought to be the “Fleming called John”, a close friend of Raphael who at one point resided with him. It has been suggested that he assisted and advised Raphael on his 1509-1510 “Astronomia” and other frescoes in the Stanza della segnatura. Not long after, Ruysch went to work at the Portuguese court as cartographer and astronomer, presumably by recommendation of Julius II who was friends with Manuel I of Portugal. Later, he returned to the St. Martin monastery, suffering from consumption, but able to create a, now lost, astronomical wall painting illustrating the days, months (phases of the Moon), and constellations. He is said to have died at considerable age in 1533 at the monastery, where he had a room adjacent to the library.
There had been many voyages of discovery immediately before Ruysch created his map :
Although there had been maps created after these voyages, such as Juan de la Cosa’s map of the world in 1500 (based on Columbus' second voyage) and the Cantino world map (circa 1502), the information on these maps was closely held and guarded as state secrets. Often a limited number of copies were made.
This situation changed drastically from 1506 to 1507 when three separate efforts to produce world maps were published. The Contarini-Rosselli map of 1506 (now in the British Library) and Martin Waldseemüller's map of the world and globe of 1507 were very influential, but not very widely published. There is only one original copy of each in existence, and both of these copies were discovered in the 20th century. By contrast, Johannes Ruysch's 1507 map of the world was much more widely published and many copies were produced and still exist. It therefore had a very large influence.
Ruysch's 1507 map of the world was included in the 1507 and 1508 southern editions of Ptolemy's Geographia, an atlas published in Rome. The editor of the 1507 edition of the Geographia was Evangelista Tosinus and the printer was Bernardinus Venetus de Vitalibus.