Abraham Ortelius Maps The Holy Roman Empire
Fine old color example of Ortelius' map of the German Empire, from his Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, the first modern atlas of the world.
Ortelius' map of the Holy Roman Empire was perhaps the most influential map of the region of its time. Compiled from the best available sources, the map was without question the most widely circulated map of the Holy Roman Empire among scholars and the upper castes of Europe. Covering a vast region from the English Channel to the Baltic, and delineating boundaries from the Vistula and Poland in the northeast to Budapest, Venice in the southeast, and reaching Milan and Geneva in the south, this map is a notable representation of the Holy Roman Empire in the late 16th century.
The cities, rivers, and other landmarks are meticulously detailed, showcasing Ortelius's commitment to providing an accurate geographical account. Notably, the map also integrates artistic elements. The coat of arms located in the lower-left corner likely represents Maximilian II, the Holy Roman Emperor. Additionally, the ship illustration in the English Channel is consistent with designs from Ortelius's other works, like "Angliae, Scotiae et Hiberniae" and "Flandria." The presence of a sea monster in the Baltic hints at the maritime myths of the era.
A significant strength of this map lies in its sources. Ortelius's primary reference for "Germania" was a nine-sheet map crafted by Christiaan Sgrooten. While not widely recognized due to the predominance of his manuscript works, Sgrooten's attention to detail and accuracy was unparalleled in his time. He amalgamated data from both published and perhaps lesser-known unpublished sources, possibly including Stella's 1560 map of Germany.
Ortelius also drew from multiple other cartographic experts. He explicitly credits Carolus Heydanus, pointing to the potential influence of Mercator's 1590 mapping, which was known for its enhanced precision and clarity. Sebastian Munster, another reputed cartographer, also seems to have influenced Ortelius. Furthermore, Tilemannus Stella's work from 1567 was noted, suggesting that Ortelius was comprehensive in integrating multiple perspectives to ensure the map's accuracy.
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).