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Stock# 68136

Exceptionally Rare Dutch Edition of the Theatrum Published in Amsterdam by Cornelis Claesz.

A superb, full original hand-color, Dutch-language Ortelius atlas published by Cornelis Claesz, Amsterdam's "great motive force behind publications in the fields of cartography, topography and the art of navigation." (Schilder, page 7)

In 1598, Cornelis Claesz was approaching the height of his career; he published the Loedwijcks journal covering the first Dutch expedition to the East Indies, as well as the Caert-Thressor, which gave him a pocket atlas to compete with those of the Antwerp publishers who still dominated that market. The one thing is his impressive repertoire of cartographic offerings still lacked was a folio atlas of the world. Rather than assume the expense of creating a wholly-new atlas, with hundreds of copper plates to be engraved and printed, Claesz came up with a clever solution; if you cannot beat the Antwerp publishers join them. To this end, he arranged to print and publish a Dutch language edition of Ortelius's Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, at that time the greatest atlas of the world ever produced.

The evidence connecting Cornelis Claesz is quite extensive; first, the Plantin archives have no record of the production of a Dutch edition of 1598 (Van Der Krogt & Koeman 31:121); second, the typeface and initials of this edition are not found in any other edition from the Plantin press, but they do match those used by Claesz - "The type font and the initials that were used for this Dutch edition certainly came from that printing house." (Schilder, page 470; and Van Der Korgt & Koeman); third, the Moretus brothers acquired copies of the Dutch Ortelius from the heirs of Cornelis Claesz (Schilder, page 469).

In all likelihood, Claesz had the maps themselves printed in Antwerp and the text sheets (two at the front and two at the back of the book) and the verso text printed in Amsterdam. Schilder suggests that the maps were printed first, possibly by Vrients, and that the text was printed later, the reverse of how the process usually worked, but the sale to the Moretus brothers in 1612 of a large number of sheets containing only text complicates this theory. (Schilder, page 470) Van Den Broecke's work points to the text being printed first; the text for the 1598D came in two settings, and those settings reappear in the 1610 and 1613 Dutch editions, in which some of the maps have been changed.

Claesz may well have made the contract for the publication of the atlas with Ortelius before the latter's death in June of 1598, with the printing of the maps fulfilled by Vrients. Alternatively, Claesz, ever the savvy businessman, could have swooped in with the proposal immediately following Ortelius's death as a way for Vrients or Ortelius's heirs to make money immediately following the great cartographer's death. (Vrients as the printer, as he did not formally acquire the plates from Ortelius's heirs until 1601.)  The latter seems somewhat more likely, as Claesz and Vrients collaborated consistently on cartographic publications from at least 1592 to 1604. (Schilder, pages 470-471)

It should be noted that an Ortelius Theatrum was offered for sale under the name of Cornelis Claesz at the Frankfurt book fair in the spring of 1603: "Theatrun orbis terrarun, Abrahmi Ortelij, tabulis aliquot novis illustrata prostat apud Cornelium Nicolai." (Schilder, page 471)

There remain some intriguing unanswered questions about the nature of the 1598 Dutch Ortelius.

A key bibliographic issue relates to the world map included in the book. According to Van Den Broecke (1-3), the 1598D either contains the final state of the first plate of Ortelius's world map (1.6), the final state of the second plate (2.3, as is the case here, with the corrected South American coastline), or the first state of the final plate (3.1). This in spite of the fact that the book was published eleven years after the creation of the third and final world map plate, which appeared in a few of the 1589G, in the 1592L, 1595L, 1598F, 1601L, etc. editions but not this one. Why would they have used out-of-date world maps for this atlas when a better one existed?

One possible answer could lie in Claesz's publication of Arnold Floris Van Langren's world map of circa 1594 (Shirley 186), which was essentially an updated knockoff of Ortelius's third plate world map (with important improvements in East Asia). Perhaps Claesz did not want to undermine the sale of that separate world map by including a nearly identical version of the map in the atlas. Still other possibilities exist, perhaps there was some bad blood over the map in which Van Langren declares himself the engraver and the author despite having followed Ortelius so slavishly. The last possibility is that Vrients or the Ortelius heirs simply sent the remaindered world maps from the Ortelius estate to be used up in the atlas and in doing so sent sheets that were much older. This is complicated by the question of the relative chronology of the printing of the maps and text.

It is also worth noting that Denucé mentions a 1598D edition (Plantin Museum, sign. A760) which contains the very rare separately-issued Ortelius-Postel Gallia map, which appears in no stable editions of the Theatrum(see VDB 35)

Claesz was truly one of the all-time greatest of the Amsterdam map and atlas publishers, and was responsible for some of the great sheet maps and wall maps ever produced. This folio world atlas, published during what might be described as Claesz's annus mirabilis, is truly a gem of Dutch cartographic publishing.


Most editions of Ortelius's atlas can be rated for rarity based on the print-run research that Marcel Van Den Broecke did in the Plantin archives. As this Dutch edition was published by Claesz, not Plantin, Vrients, or Moretus, the print run number becomes a bit more difficult to decipher, but the conclusions are clear; this is in all probability the rarest Ortelius atlas edition. Van Den Broecke lists print runs of either 25 or 50 for the 1598D and a combined print run of only 100 for the final three Dutch editions (1598, 1610, and 1613) combined. For comparison, the next rarest run is probably the famed 1570A, the first edition, first issue of the atlas, of which 100 copies were printed. 300 copies of the 1606 English edition were printed.

The Theatrum Orbis Terrarum

Ortelius's Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (or "Theater of the World") is widely considered to be the first modern atlas, meaning that this was the first published set of uniform maps with supporting text gathered in book form. Previous bound map collections exist, for example the Italian Lafreri atlases, but these were sets of maps selected and bound together on demand. The Theatrum, in contrast, was the best available summary of sixteenth-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. Ortelius’ atlas outperformed later competing atlases from other cartographic luminaries like the De Jode and the Mercator families. The broad appeal of the work is demonstrated by the array of languages in which the atlas appeared: in addition to Latin, the atlas was published with text in Dutch, French, German, Italian, Spanish, and English. Between 1570 and 1612, at least 31 editions of the atlas were published in seven languages. The editions grew over time, with the first edition having 70 maps on 53 sheets, and the 1612 edition having 167.

At the time of its publication, the Theatrum was the most expensive book ever produced. Ortelius created all the maps personally, hand drawing the rough sketches. Those drawings were then interpreted into prints by his engravers Frans Hogenberg, Ambrosius Arsenius, and Ferdinand Arsenius. 

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 own death in 1612. Vrients's widow then sold the plates to the Moretus brothers, who were the successors of Christoffel Plantin. Recent research has unearthed examples of the atlas with maps dated to 1640.

Condition Description
Folio. 19th-century half calf over black-and-yellow mottled paper. Engraved title and engraved portrait of Ortelius by Philipe Galle; 90 (of 91, lacking map 37 "Vrieslandt") double-page engraved maps, all of which in full original hand-color. Full contemporary hand-color. Repairs in places to blank margins throughout (no resultant loss of text or image), map 11 "Enghelandt" with a repaired tear running into image, lower blank margin varyingly dampstained throughout, coloring in places slightly affected by dampstain, though in general the dampstaining is confined to the blank margins.
Van Der Krogt & Koeman 31:121; Van Den Broecke, Ortelius Atlas Maps, p. 26.
Abraham Ortelius Biography

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).