Abraham Ortelius North Sea


Abraham Ortelius.  “Septentrionalium Regionum Descrip.” From Theatrum Orbis Terrarum.  Antwerp: Aegidius Coppen Diesth, [1573].  14 x 19.  Engraving.  Full hand color.  French text on verso.  Very good condition.  Nordenskiold; p. 52ff.

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An important map of the northern Atlantic from ‘the first modern atlas,’ Abraham Ortelius’ Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, or “Theater of the World.”  The publication of this atlas marked an epoch in the history of cartography, for it is the first uniform and systematic collection of maps of the whole world based only on contemporary knowledge since the days of Ptolemy.  In the sixteenth century there was a great increase in interest in maps and charts, and Ortelius, as a businessman with a passion for history and cartography, was at the forefront in meeting this demand.  Through his collecting and his antiques business, Ortelius was able to research contemporary maps, becoming the greatest expert of his day in the bibliography of maps.  Ortelius based his work on the best maps available, drawing all the maps himself with the celebrated Frans Hogenberg cutting most of the plates.  Unlike other atlas-makers, Ortelius cited the authors of the original maps from which he compiled his work.  Thus it is not only for his unprecedented achievement in issuing the first modern atlas, but also for his thoughtful and rigorous methodology, that Ortelius belongs amongst the first rank of cartographers.  He is very aptly called ‘the father of modern cartography.’

This is a ‘mythical island’ map, one of the most interesting maps from the high age of Dutch cartography.  The area depicted extends from Scandinavia, through Great Britain, and on to Iceland, Greenland and the North American coast.  Though highly decorative, with sailing ships and sea creatures, it is for the abundant non-existent islands that this map is famous.  From old legends come the islands of St. Brendan and Brasil, shown to the west of the British Isles.  From the famous Zeno map comes Frisland, probably a mirror reflection of Iceland, and the islands of Drogeo and Icaria, which together with the name “Estotiland” may reflect an early exploration to the North American coast.  And despite its many myths, the information from the Zeno map provided the earliest, relatively accurate map of Scandinavia.  This is a graphic image of Renaissance art and legend, a truly fabulous map.