Orbis Terrarum by Abraham Ortelius (1527-1598), a Flemish
scholar and geographer.
Ortelius's Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (Theatre of the World)
is considered the first true atlas in the modern sense: a collection
of uniform map sheets and sustaining text bound to form a book
for which copper printing plates were specifically engraved.
The Ortelius atlas is sometimes referred to as the summary of
sixteenth-century cartography. Many of his atlas's maps were
based upon sources that no longer exist or are extremely rare.
Ortelius appended a unique source list (the "Catalogus Auctorum")
identifying the names of contemporary cartographers, some of
whom would otherwise have remained obscure. More than an original
concept, the Theatrum was also the most authoritative
and successful such work during the late sixteenth and early
seventeenth centuries. Because it was frequently revised to
reflect new geographical and historical insights, contemporary
scholars in western Europe praised the Theatrum highly
for its accuracy, even as they embraced the atlas's concept.
The Theatrum atlas first appeared in 1570 and continued
to be published until 1612. During this period, over seventy-three
hundred copies were printed in thirty-one editions and seven
different languages-a remarkable figure for the time.
1570 Latin edition of the Theatrum mapbook consisted
of seventy maps on fifty-three sheets with accompanying texts.
In the Geography and Map Division of the Library of Congress,
there are copies of each of the four imprints from that edition.
The online collection presents images of the entire third
imprint. This particular volume was unbound for conservation
treatment, thus making individual maps and narratives in the
atlas available for scanning.
Abraham Ortelius, maker of the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum,
as one of the most prominent geographers of the sixteenth
century. Before the publication of the Theatrum, Ortelius
was a respected student of classical history and a collector
of books and old coins but had found only modest acclaim for
his cartographic skills. Yet, he had made a living as a professional
illuminator after 1554, illustrating hundreds of maps, and
making at least six single- and multi-sheet maps of his own
between 1564 and 1570. Still, it was the Theatrum that
firmly established his reputation as a cartographer and made
him a wealthy man.
When the Theatrum appeared, European map production
was shifting from Italy to Antwerp, Ortelius's home town and
a center of entrepreneurial activity in Europe. "Mapbooks"
had appeared in several formats well before Ortelius first
started preparing the Theatrum project. Portuguese
discoveries of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries were
documented by manuscript charts bound together in volume format.
Some wall-maps were also bound. In the 1560s, many so-called
"I.A.T.O." (Italian atlas assembled to order) or "Lafreri"
volumes had been printed, flooding the market but not necessarily
unifying maps and text into a single context or printing format.
Rather than appearing as a single edition, Italian atlases
were assembled to suit the needs of the individual customer. Ortelius
departed from the Italian model by placing far more emphasis
on the explanatory quality of the text while giving nearly
equal weight to all elements of the atlas. Cut to uniform
size and printed as a single-sized compilation of maps, historical
narratives, and source references, the Theatrum was
from the outset an encyclopedic description of the world like
none before it.
Encyclopedic also was Ortelius's method of paying homage to
existing sources. The Theatrum's maps were a careful
selection of the best available cartography. They were logically
organized to represent continents, groups of regions, and
nation-states, with the text (one or both halfsheets on the
backs of the maps) providing relevant information and further
edition's bibliography or "Catalogus Auctorum"-a separate section
in the atlas-lists not only all thirty-three cartographers whose
maps Ortelius consulted, but all eighty-seven geographers known
to him. The "Catalogus" was thus the first critical attempt
to provide readers with a historical context for published maps. In an era when naming references was the exception rather than the
rule, Ortelius was one of the best bibliographers of early cartography.
Earlier mapbooks (after ca. 1400) had been based on the work
of Claudius Ptolemy, whose Geographia recorded classical
Greek geographic knowledge in the second century A.D. and was
the chief source for cartographic publications in the early
Renaissance era. Ortelius's Theatrum definitively freed
cartography from the influence of Ptolemy although convention
still demanded that the new form of map presentation and illustration
pay homage to the classical writers.
While not a scientific innovator, Ortelius is best remembered
for his ability to gather an immense body of existing geographic
knowledge and to publish it in a consistent and high-quality
cartographic format: the atlas. As a synthesis of many existing
maps, the Theatrum's world map, for example, was influenced
by the cartography of Jacobo Gastaldi (world map, 1561), Diego
Gutierrez (portolan map of the Atlantic, 1562), and, not least,
by Gerardus Mercator's 1569 world map. The map of Europa found
its inspiration in the work of Mercator (wall map, 1554), Olaus
Magnus (Scandinavia map, 1539), and Gastaldi (first map of Asia,
1559, and Africa map of 1664). The Asia map was based upon Ortelius's
own wall map of 1567, which was in turn made after Gastaldi's
1559 Asia map. Compiling, refining, and reducing maps and multiple maps of other geographers
to folio pages measuring approximately 57.6 by 42.6 cm was the
essence of Ortelius's atlas-making labours.
The single most crucial source for much of Ortelius's mapping
was the influential 1569 world map of Gerardus Mercator (1512-1594).
At least eight plates in the Theatrum were directly derived
from this map. Mercator, Ortelius's contemporary, who coined the word "atlas" for
a book of maps, could boast maps and atlases of superior accuracy
and comparable influence. The original idea of fitting maps
to size and binding them in a smaller format may also have been
his. Throughout successive editions of the Theatrum,
Ortelius often modified and even replaced maps based on advice,
findings, and encouragements from Mercator. It has been suggested
that Mercator deliberately delayed the publication of his own
atlas in order to accommodate Ortelius, but no clear evidence
substantiates the claim. Much more an original empirical scientist
than Ortelius was, Mercator drew many of his own maps and redrew
them for use in his 1585 Atlas. By reducing the texts
and further increasing the integration of maps, Mercator gradually
refined Ortelius's atlas concept. In theTheatrum, Ortelius
did not forget to pay special homage to Mercator, whom he had
befriended as a young man in the early 1550s.
In evaluating the importance of the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum,
one must also consider its circumstances of publication and
the sheer length of its publication history. Ortelius was neither
wealthy nor without competition in his field of scholarly activity.
Even as he was preparing the first edition of his atlas, contemporaries
in Antwerp, such as Hieronymus Cock (c. 1507-1570), Gerard de
Jode (c. 1508-1591), and Gerardus Mercator, were formidable
rivals. In the late 1560s De Jode began compiling his competing
world atlas, Speculum Orbis Terrarum (whose publication
was considerably delayed and did not occur until 1578). The
two men had collaborated on an earlier world map (1564) but
had then become estranged. Meanwhile the Cologne humanist Georg
Braun (1541-1622)-an acquaintance of Ortelius-was planning the
publication of his city atlas Civitates Orbis Terrarum,
which was first published in Cologne in 1572.
In this competitive atmosphere, the Theatrum, while representing
Ortelius's deep understanding of geography, came into being
as a commercial venture and partnership. While undertaking to
pay for its early printing himself, Ortelius involved numerous
business and scholarly connections-engravers, printers, and
merchants-he had met as an illuminator. Crucial to the eventual
success of Theatrum was his connection with the Antwerp
printing house of Christoph Plantin (or Christoffel Plantijn,
c. 1520-1589), which assumed responsibility for printing the
atlas in 1579. Commercial success nevertheless appears to have
come as a surprise. An emerging, well-to-do middle class in
the Netherlands was taking an active interest in education and
scientific matters and the Theatrum's format, like that
of earlier atlases, was far less cumbersome to use than sets
of loose sheets. The atlas's popularity, and the many reactions
and encouragements he received to continue printing his "manual,"
may in part explain why Ortelius immediately began revising
errata, verifying and adding source references, and changing
less conspicuous textual elements.
All editions of the Theatrum have a common structure.
The single-volume atlas opens with an allegorical title page
depicting the five continents then known as native goddesses.
There follows a dedication to Philip II, King of Spain and the
Netherlands; a poem by Adolphus Mekerchus (Adolf van Meetkercke),
on the title page; a portrait of Ortelius by Philip Galle (in
editions of 1579 and later); an introduction by Ortelius himself;
a letter of recommendation by Mercator; the list of sources
("Catalogus Auctorum"); an index of regions and place-names
("Index Tabularum"); the atlas proper, consisting of maps with
accompanying text on the verso; a register of place-names in
antiquity ("Nomenclator"); a treatise ("De Mona Druidum", by
Humfred Lhuyd); and finally the privilege and a colophon.
After Theatrum Orbis Terrarum's initial release, Ortelius
regularly revised and expanded the atlas, reissuing it in various
formats until his death in 1598. From its original seventy maps
and eighty-seven bibliographic references in the first edition
(1570), the atlas grew through its thirty-one editions to encompass
183 references and 167 maps in 1612. Only after 1610 did the
atlas's accuracy begin to be called into question by more recent
findings, such as those found in the works of the Blaeu family
and Jodocus Hondius. Throughout its publication history, however,
the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum was the undisputed leader
in the field of European atlas-making.
To use this
software, you must install the free ExpressView MrSid software
which is included on the CD. This is a 30 second process and will
allow you to view and manipulate/print all the maps in this CD
collection in full detail. There is a version for Windows
platforms and full installation instructions
are included on the CD.