Striking example of Ortelius' map of Brabant, including his home town of Antwerp, from Ortelius' Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, the first modern atlas.
Rotterdam is shown in the west and Liege in the north.
Abraham Ortelius (1527-1598) was, along with Gerard Mercator, the most important cartographer of the 16th century.
He was born in Antwerp to a family with connections in printing and publishing. Ortelius's uncle, Sir Jacobus van Meteren, took over the role of raising Ortelius after the latter's father had died.
In 1545 at the age of 18, Ortelius began his career as a map colorist. His sister Anna was also an accomplished colorist. He entered the Guild of St. Luke as a colorist two years later, and in 1547, he was registered as a colorist with the publisher Plantin.
In 1564, Ortelius published his first map, a large wall map of the world titled "Typus Orbis Terrarum". Today the map is known in only one example. Between 1564 and 1570, Ortelius made at least six single- and multi-sheet maps of his own.
1570 was the year Ortelius first published the book that would become his defining masterwork: the first true modern atlas of the world, Theatrum Orbis Terrarum.
In 1575, with the recommendation of Arias Montanus, Ortelius was appointed geographer to the King of Spain, Philip II.
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum
The present map comes from Abraham Ortelius's Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (or "Theater of the World"), which is widely considered to be the first true modern atlas. The Theatrum was the best available summary of 16th-century cartographic knowledge, covering much of the exploration of the world in the century following the discovery of America.
The atlas was first published in 1570 in Antwerp, and it was published consistently until 1612. Recent research has unearthed examples of the atlas with maps dated to 1640.
Ortelius was the artist of all of the maps; he drew them by hand, and those drawings were interpreted into prints by his engravers Frans Hogenberg, Ambrosius Arsenius, and Ferdinand Arsenius.
The broad appeal of the Theatrum saw demand from many consumers who preferred to read the atlas in their local language. Thus, in addition to Latin, the book was published with text in Dutch, French, German, Italian, Spanish, and English.
After Ortelius's death in 1598, the copper plates for his atlas passed to his heirs. They, in turn, sold the collection to Jan Baptist Vrients (1522-1612) in 1601. Vrients added new maps and published the atlas until his death in 1612. Vrients's widow then sold the plates to the Moretus brothers, who were the successors of Christoffel Plantin.
Abraham Ortelius is perhaps the best known and most frequently collected of all sixteenth-century mapmakers. Ortelius started his career as a map colorist. In 1547 he entered the Antwerp guild of St Luke as afsetter van Karten. His early career was as a business man, and most of his journeys before 1560, were for commercial purposes. In 1560, while traveling with Gerard Mercator to Trier, Lorraine, and Poitiers, he seems to have been attracted, largely by Mercator’s influence, towards a career as a scientific geographer. From that point forward, he devoted himself to the compilation of his Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (Theatre of the World), which would become the first modern atlas.
In 1564 he completed his “mappemonde", an eight-sheet map of the world. The only extant copy of this great map is in the library of the University of Basel. Ortelius also published a map of Egypt in 1565, a plan of Brittenburg Castle on the coast of the Netherlands, and a map of Asia, prior to 1570.
On May 20, 1570, Ortelius’ Theatrum Orbis Terrarum first appeared in an edition of 70 maps. By the time of his death in 1598, a total of 25 editions were published including editions in Latin, Italian, German, French, and Dutch. Later editions would also be issued in Spanish and English by Ortelius’ successors, Vrients and Plantin, the former adding a number of maps to the atlas, the final edition of which was issued in 1612. Most of the maps in Ortelius' Theatrum were drawn from the works of a number of other mapmakers from around the world; a list of 87 authors is given by Ortelius himself
In 1573, Ortelius published seventeen supplementary maps under the title of Additamentum Theatri Orbis Terrarum. In 1575 he was appointed geographer to the king of Spain, Philip II, on the recommendation of Arias Montanus, who vouched for his orthodoxy (his family, as early as 1535, had fallen under suspicion of Protestantism). In 1578 he laid the basis of a critical treatment of ancient geography with his Synonymia geographica (issued by the Plantin press at Antwerp and republished as Thesaurus geographicus in 1596). In 1584 he issued his Nomenclator Ptolemaicus, a Parergon (a series of maps illustrating ancient history, sacred and secular). Late in life, he also aided Welser in his edition of the Peutinger Table (1598).