Antique map of the world by Abraham Ortelius. Published in 1598 in Antwerp.

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An old coloured and early example of one of the most famous world maps ever published. From the first modern atlas Theatrum Orbis Terrarum by Abraham Ortelius. "As the first world map occurring in the first regular atlas, this map is of fundamental importance in the history of cartography." (M. van den Broeke). The present example is from the first state of the third plate printed in 1598. A detailed description of the known world in French on the back side.

The beautiful world map in an oval projection is positions in elegant strapwork and swag, surround in the mannerist style with corner medallions featuring excerpts form Cicero and Seneca. At the bottom a quote by Cicero, in translation, For what human affairs can seem important to a man who keeps all eternity before his eyes and knows the vastness of the universe? Decorated with a galleon and two sea monsters. Also noteworthy is the misprint Septemtrio instead of Septentrio.

R. Shirley describes the Ortelius Atlas with this world map in The Mapping of the World:

For the first time, in 1570, all the elements of the modern atlas were brought to publication in Abraham Ortelius' Theatrum Orbis Terrarum. This substantial undertaking assembled fifty-three of the best available maps of the world by the most renowned and up-to-date geographers.
Unlike earlier compositions such as the Italian composite or 'Lafreri' atlases, each of Ortelius' maps was engraved specifically for his atlas according to uniform format. Through its launching, pre-eminence in map publishing was transferred from Italy to the Netherlands leading to over hundred years of Dutch supremancy in all facets of cartographical production.
Ortelius' map was copied widely, and derivatives were later used to illustrate works by Voisin, Broughton, Maffei, Belle-Forest, Petri, Hakluyt and others.

Geographically, the map is mainly based on Mercator's large map of the world, which was published a year earlier in 1569 and is only preserved in three copies. Ortelius also used the 1561 world map of Giacomo Gastaldi and Diego Gutierrez' portolan chart of the Atlantic.

Ortelius roughly adopted the American continent from Mercator. South America had an unusual bulged southwest coast in the first two versions, this was completly reworked for this third plate. The cartography of North America is largely speculative apart from the colonial centres in the Caribbean and central Mexico. The Atlantic coast extends too far east, the discoveries of Giovanni de Verrazzano and Jacques Cartier, such as the St Lawrence River are already depicted. The Chesapeake Bay is still undiscovered, the Mississippi River is not yet drawn despite its discovery in 1540, and the Great Lakes are also missing. The discoveries of the Spanish conquistador Francisco Vásquez de Coronado from 1540-42 in the western USA, such as the mouth of the Colorado River, are depicted. Quivira in the far northwest refers to the fabled gold country of Quivira, which Coronado sought as far west as Kansas in North America in 1541.

The southern tip of South America is separated from Tierra del Fuego by the Strait of Magellan, discovered in 1520, which is still part of the huge fictitious southern continent Terra Australis Nondum Cognita. The hypothetical southern continent was already supposed in ancient times. It was believed that all seas were surrounded by land, like the Mediterranean. It was not until Francis Drake's circumnavigation of the world in 1577-80 that he realised that the Strait of Magellan was not a channel between two continents and that south of Cape Horn there was only the open sea.

Several mythical islands are marked in the Atlantic, mostly based on questionable reports by little-known seafarers: Brasil, Frisland, Verde, S. Bradain and Drogeo. Legendary is the phantom island Sept Citiz in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, better known as Antilia. It was said the island has been settled by a Christian community fleeing the Moors in the 8th century, leaving the Iberian peninsula by ship. The island of Saint Brendan in the northeast of South America, marked as Y. de S. Bo., was also considered a fact among scholars at the time this map was created. It was named after the Irish monk Saint Brendan, who supposedly undertook a legendary sea voyage in the 6th century and discovered this island.

Japan is still incorrectly shown as a large round island, Korea is not present. The Southeast Asian islands are already well depicted for the time. The legendary names Lucach, Beach (Land of Gold) and Maletur (Kingdom of the Malays) in the great southern continent Terrae Australis go back to Marco Polo.

The first printing plate of Ortelius' world map was first used in the Latin edition of the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum in 1570. Replaced in 1584 by a second copper plate, recognizable by the last word "AETERNITA" of the first line of the Cicero quote in the lower cartouche, which in the new version is wrapped around "AETER:|NITAS". In 1589, the third and last version of the world map used in the Ortelius Atlas was created. The coastline of South America was completely revised, medallions were placed in the four corners and the clouds were removed.

The present example was printed from the first state of the third plate as used between 1592 and 1613. It appeared in the French edition of 1598, published by the Plantin Press in Antwerp.


CartographerAbraham Ortelius
TitleTypus Orbis Terrarum
Publisher, YearPlantin Press, Antwerp, 1598
Plate Size35.5 x 48.8 cm (14.0 x 19.2 inches)
Sheet Size42.5 x 53.0 cm (16.7 x 20.9 inches)
ReferenceShirley, R. W.: The Mapping of the World, No. 158; Van den Broecke, M.: Ortelius Atlas Maps, No. 3.1; Van der Krogt, P.: Koeman's Atlantes Neerlandici, 0001:31C.


In the right margin a little visible water stain, overall a little more browned. Very good condition with nice old colors.


Abraham Ortelius was born 1527 in Antwerp. He studied mathematics, Greek and Latin and travelled a lot across Europe. He established a business in dealing with books and drawing maps. His first remarkable map was a 8 sheet world map in the year 1564, but only three copies have survived. In 1570 he issued the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, the first modern Atlas with uniformly sized maps in a systematic collection. The term Atlas was not used until Mercator introduced it 20 years later. Most of the maps in Theatrum have been engraved by Frans Hogenberg. At the time of publication, the atlas was the most expensive book ever printed. Nevertheless it was a big success and around 7000 copies have been printed until 1612 in many editions and six different languages. Beside the Theatrum, Ortelius compiled a series of historical maps and published it in the Parergon Theatri which was bound with the Theatrum from 1579 onwards or published separately.

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Abraham Ortelius: Typus Orbis Terrarum.
Antique map of the world by Abraham Ortelius. Published in 1598 in Antwerp.

World Maps - Ortelius, Abraham - Typus Orbis Terrarum

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