Striking Ortelius Map of the Ancient Iberian Peninsula, with Inset of Cadiz
Beautiful and detailed map of ancient Spain, Portugal, and the Balearic Islands from Ortelius' Parergon. The Parergon was generally published as an appendix to Ortelius’ magnum opus, the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, which is considered the first modern atlas. It was also published separately, in 1595 and 1624.
Oriented northward, this map displays the Iberian Peninsula, from the southern border of France (Galliae Confinia) in the northeast to the northern tip of Morocco (Africae pars) in the south. The peninsula is comprised of the three Roman provinces of Tarraconensis et Citerior, Lusitania, and Baetica, territory that covers modern-day Spain, Portugal, and the Balearic Islands.
This map is characterized by excellent attention to detail. The shape of the coastline is very accurate, which is unsurprising given that Europe was well mapped by this time. Rivers are carefully rendered, and throughout the map mountain ranges and forests give the land texture. In particular, the Pyrenees Mountains (Pyrenaei montes) dividing Spain and France are well drawn. Cities are represented with precise drawings of buildings, which is typical of Ortelius maps.
Three strapwork cartouches adorn this map. In the northwest corner, a relatively simple cartouche indicates the title and cartographer. A more intricate cartouche in the southwest corner dedicates the map to the knowledgeable Spanish theologist Benedictus Arias Montanus, a personal friend of Ortelius. This one is more ornate than the last, containing figures in addition to the beautiful strapwork.
The third, and largest, cartouche contains an inset map of the Cadiz region, the southern tip of the peninsula at the Strait of Gibraltar. This additional detail shows more towns and a more specific coastline than the main map. The cartouche also contains an extensive list of places of unknown location, including peoples, cities, mountains, rivers, and more. All of the cartouches employ texture and shading which give them a three-dimensional appearance.
Each aspect of the map is labeled, and some labels give additional information about the name or events that occurred there. For example, the Strait of Gibraltar (Fretum Herculeum, Gaditanum, et Columnarum) is given a description that indicates it is the connection between the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. Names of a variety of mythical and historical figures can also be found on the map, such as classical gods like Mercury and Diana, heroes like Hercules, and scholars like Pliny. This indicates the map’s use as a reference for the region in both geography and history.
Although best known for his world atlas, the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, the Parergon was a project of personal interest and the work that Ortelius himself considered his greatest achievement. He had a deep interest in classical antiquity which spurred him to create the Parergon maps, and the amount of time and detail he put into each map is clearly evident. Ortelius hand drew each map of the Parergon, which required considerable skill and knowledge of the area’s history and geography. It is considered the first historical atlas.
Parergon means supplementary and, accordingly, the first three Parergon maps were published as supplements to the 1579 edition of the Theatrum, which had already been in print for nine years. Over time, successive editions of the Theatrum were supplemented with more Parergon maps, and there are 55 known plates overall. The Parergon was also published as its own atlas separate from the Theatrum on two occasions, once in 1595 and again in 1624.
The Parergon was highly successful both as a supplement to the Theatrum and on its own. It was variously translated into French, German, Italian, and English and regularly printed until 1612. Further editions were more sporadic but still popular, such as the 1624 edition which was published twenty-six years after Ortelius’ death in 1598.
This striking map and indeed the entire Parergon blends geography, history, and myth, and the level of detail present speaks to Ortelius’ skill as a mapmaker and his dedication to his craft. This would be a valuable addition to a collection of European maps, Ortelius maps, or maps of classical antiquity.
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).