Including The Mythical Island of Frisland
Abraham Ortelius's map of the North Atlantic, engraved by Frans Hogenberg and extending from Scandinavia, the Polar regions, to Greenland, Iceland, and North America, represents a fascinating convergence of knowledge, myth, and artistic expression. Created during the late 16th century, the map was included in Ortelius' seminal work "Theatrum Orbis Terrarum," considered to be the first modern atlas. The map is an excellent early outline of the Scandinavian coast, bordering the Mare Congelatum, the frozen waters of the Arctic, and it showcases the influence of Gerardus Mercator's wall map of 1569, the infamous Zeno map of 1558, and the work of Olaus Magnus in 1539.
One of the intriguing aspects of Ortelius's map is the depiction of mythical islands, which resonated with the popular imagination of the time. These include:
- Friesland: A phantom island often depicted on North Atlantic maps, its origin might stem from a misinterpretation of Iceland.
- S. Brandain: This references St. Brendan's Isle, a legendary island said to have been discovered by the Irish monk St. Brendan during his voyage in the 6th century.
- Brasil: Not to be confused with the South American country, this mythical island was rumored to be located off the coast of Ireland.
- Icaria: Possibly inspired by the Greek myth of Icarus, this fictional island is sometimes linked with real islands in the Aegean Sea.
- Drogeo: The origin of this mythical island is unclear but has often been associated with mirages or misinterpretations of actual land masses.
In the Arctic region, a mysterious note "Pigmei hic habitant" stands out, translating to "Pygmies live here." This reflects a combination of classical myth and medieval belief regarding a race of tiny people living at the earth's edges.
The portion identified as "Estotilant" in Northeastern America might refer to the mythical land of Norumbega, a term that appeared on various maps during this period, possibly denoting a real Native American settlement.
Furthermore, the note "Angra di Ioa Maio" connects to early Portuguese explorations, reflecting European attempts to grasp the geography of the New World.
Ortelius's map is not only an exploration document but an artistic creation. It includes elaborate sea monsters and sailing ships, symbols of the unknown and dangerous nature of sea travel during this era.
Ortelius's map of the North Atlantic is more than a mere geographical representation. It's a historical artifact that encapsulates the scientific knowledge, myths, beliefs, and artistic sensibilities of the time. By blending real geography with fantastical elements, it provides a window into the Renaissance mindset and the exploratory zeal of an age when the world's edges were still uncharted. Whether as a source of historical study or a piece of art, this map continues to fascinate and inspire, reflecting the timeless human urge to explore, understand, and imagine.
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).