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Typus Orbis Terrarum: 1608 [1612], Ortelius' Masterful World Map in Exquisite Original Color

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  • Title: Typus Orbis Terrarum
  • Author: Abraham Ortelius
  • Date: 1608 [1612]
  • Medium: Hand-colored copperplate engraving
  • Condition: Excellent - presented here in the most mellow and attractive contemporary color we have seen, centerfold expertly reinforced, old mounting hinges at top on verso.
  • Inches: 20 x 14 3/4 [Image]
  • Centimeters: 50.8 x 37.47 [Image]
  • Product ID: 317031

The Renaissance Masterwork, One of the Greatest World Maps

The Final World Map From the Final Edition

One of the most famous world maps, from the rare Italian language Theatrum Orbis Terrarum. The map is a simplified one-sheet reduction of Gerard Mercator's large world map of 1569, here in its third and final plate.  The map was engraved in 1587, and first issued in the Latin text edition of 1592.  Rather than the extensive embellishments of Mercator, Ortelius positions the world in elegant strapwork and swag, surround in the mannerist style with corner medallions featuring excerpts form Cicero and Seneca. Note the cardinal spelled Septemtrio instead of Septentrio.  A quote from Cicero at the bottom reads Who can consider human affairs to be great, when he comprehends the eternity and vastness of the entire world? 

This third, and last,  plate remained in use for the remainder of the Theatrum editions, in 1612, as here.  The distinctive bulge in the west coast of South America has been rectified, but Tierra del Fuego still appears as a peninsula of the “Great Unknown Southern Land." The Arctic regions are separated from America and Asia by the hoped-for northwest passage, the desired shortcut to Asia with all its riches. This belief was not entirely dispelled until McKenzie’s and Lewis and Clark’s epic overland continental journeys many generations later. A prudent question, quae an sit insula aut pars continentus Australis incertum, adjacent to New Guinea asks whether this large island is part of the great southern continent, or not. 

Abraham Ortelius was born April 4, 1527.  His father was an antique dealer of some means, and thus Abraham received a classical education including instruction in Latin, Greek and mathematics.  He became a map colorist at the age of 19 and achieved an advanced level of skill.  Leveraging his success as well as his familiarity with maps and atlases, Ortelius became a trader in books, prints and maps, travelling widely in northern Europe to map and book fairs.  In 1564 he completed his first cartographic production, an eight-sheet wall map of the world. The only surviving example of this magnificent map is in the library of the University of Basel.

Real prosperity arrived with the publication of the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum in 1570, with 53 maps.  Ortelius was the first to engrave maps in a uniform format, specifically for this atlas, and provide uniform content.  Prior to this, atlases were made to order affairs, with no consistency in size or content.  His success was such that four printings occurred in 1570 to meet demand, and the publication of the Theatrum launched 100 years of Dutch supremacy in cartography.  Its enduring influence and popularity can be measured by the fact that more than 40 editions (Shirley) were printed, in both Latin and vernacular versions, over half by the Plantin press. 

Abraham Ortelius was a true Renaissance man; Cosmographer to Phillip II, King of Spain, book dealer, cartographer, numismatist, naturalist, and historian.  He had wide interests in classical scholarship, spoke six languages and had reasonable command of two others.  He was without doubt one of the most prominent citizens of Antwerp in the late Sixteenth century, when the city was a global trading center, “...the city of cities…”.  He had contacts throughout Europe from his extensive travels and counted the brightest intellectuals and entrepreneurs of his day among his friends. 

As he became more prosperous, he moved to more and more spacious accommodations to house his collection of books, maps, coins and objects of natural history until his became the greatest privately owned (the only kind that existed) museum in northwest Europe.  His connection with scholars and cartographers continued to develop as the fame of the Theatrum grew.  He exhorted his contacts and readers to send him corrections and additional maps to increase the accuracy and coverage of his atlas.  Abraham Ortelius died at the age of 71 on June 28, 1598. 

Reference:  Ortelius Atlas Maps, Marcel van den Broecke. Shirley, p. XXVIII, 158.