Ortelius Southeast Asia, 1592


Abraham Ortelius.  “Indiae Orientalis Insularumque Adiacientium Typus.”  From Theatrum Orbis Terrarum.  Antwerp: Plantin, [1570]-1592.  13 3/8 x 19 1/2.  Engraving.  Superb original hand color.  Excellent condition.  Koeman: 48, Ort 27B.

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A stunning and historically fascinating, antique map of Southeast Asia, focusing on the spice trade, drawn and published by Abraham Ortelius.  Known as the “father of modern cartography,” in 1570 Ortelius issued the first edition of his Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (Theater of the World), the ‘first modern atlas.’  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.

This stunning map shows Southeast Asia, as well as the East Indies and Japan, with the northwest coast of America in the top right corner.  This region was of great interest to Europeans, and particularly the Dutch, because it included the “Spice Islands,” the Moluccas Islands, which are shown prominently between New Guinea and Borneo.  A text banner states, in Latin, “The Molucca Islands are celebrated across the terrestrial globe for their copious spices,” and it was the trade in those spices which enriched the Netherlands and spurred to development of the map trade, of which Ortelius was one of the leading figures.  The map is a decorative, as well as historic, masterpiece, with a strap-work title cartouche, cavorting mermaids, and ferocious sea monsters, all highlighted in superb original color.