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Dynamic Plates Depicting the Electors of the Holy Roman Empire

Finely engraved pair of images depicting a group of the Electors of the Holy Roman Empire. These plates were originally engraved by master engraver Antonie Wierix for Gerard de Jode’s atlas, Speculum Orbis Terrae, but later re-issued in Abraham Ortelius’ Parergon, the first historical atlas.

This engraving was first published in 1593 in de Jode’s atlas. The plate was later acquired by Vrients and, from 1603, was included in Ortelius's Theatrum and Parergon.

The engraving depicts the nobles who are entitled to choose Emperors of the Holy Roman Empire. These plates show the highest-ranking officials at the top and the least powerful at the bottom. The emperor is centered at the top of the plate, seated on an elaborate throne, with seven officials surrounding him. On his right are three ecclesiastical electors, and on his right four lay dignitaries. These men are all depicted in long robes, carefully rendered to show the folds and drapes of the fabric. Each carries his own unique item, such as a key or a scroll.

The second rank consists of four dukes and four marquises. Below them stand eight provincial and military earls. The second plate also contains three rows of electors, with the first being four dignitaries and four soldiers (identifiable by their plumed helmets). The next row shows four freemen and four city representatives, while the bottom row portrays four farmers and four village representatives. Each man is dressed in ornate clothing appropriate to his station.

Each man has a shield with his coat of arms, which helps to identify him along with his name below. Of particular note is the Emperor’s coat of arms, the double-headed Imperial eagle, which was the symbol of the Holy Roman Empire. This eagle was likely derived from the ancient Roman aquila or eagle standard carried by Roman legions, making it a great expression of power.

It should be noted that the double-headed Imperial eagle only came into use in the fourteenth century (earlier coats of arms used a single-headed eagle). This indicates that although the text at the bottom of the plate discusses events from 974 AD, the Emperor and electors depicted are more contemporary to the plate’s creation in the 1500s.

The Crowning of Otto III

According to the text at the bottom of the second plate, when the Emperor Otto II died, the crown of the Holy Roman Empire passed to his son Otto III. Otto III appointed his cousin to be Pope, and the newly appointed Pope Gregorius V crowned Otto III with support from the German electors. However, when the new Emperor visited Rome, Pope Iohannes expelled the new Pope Gregorius V from the city, enraging the Emperor. Otto III took Rome by force and implemented a new system that would give electoral power to appoint the Emperor to seven German lords.

The text also notes that Otto III, 28 years old at the time, was known as an incredibly acute man. The writer also concedes that, though the conflict is said to have happened in the year 974, there are differing opinions on the accuracy of this date.

In fact, the accuracy of this entire story is somewhat unclear, as Otto III was only three years old when he inherited the crown and did not even live to the age of 28. In addition, the conflict is now known to have occurred in the 990s. Some aspects are correct, however, as the new Emperor did appoint his cousin as Pope Gregorius V, and he did quell a Roman revolt shortly thereafter. Otto III was also known as an intelligent and educated ruler. The text on this plate is likely as accurate as was known at the time of engraving.


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 curiosity about 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.

Overall, the detail present in the plates is a testament to de Jode’s skill as much as his dedication to accurate historical representation. Its re-issuing in Ortelius’ atlas has given it the acclaim and visibility that it could not receive in a less famous atlas. These plates would be a valuable addition to collections of Gerard de Jode’s work, Ortelius’ Parergon, or historical work related to the Holy Roman Empire.

Condition Description
Latin text on verso (1603).
Pete Loeser, "Holy Roman Empire 962-1806 (Germany)," Flags of the World, last modified May 15, 2015,; "Otto III," | Free Online Encyclopedia, accessed July 6, 2019,; Marcel P. Van den Broecke, "Cartographica Neerlandica Background for Ortelius Map No. 201," Cartographica Neerlandica, accessed July 6, 2019,; Marcel P. Van den Broecke, "Cartographica Neerlandica Topographical Names for Ortelius Map No. 202," Cartographica Neerlandica, accessed July 6, 2019, JE.

few 1603Lxxxviij or (mostly) xvij (300 copies printed) (text and page number, but not typesetting, identical with the 1609/1612L/S editions; last line, left aligned: qui sequenti tabula exhibetur.);
few 1603Lxxxviiij, most xviij (300 copies printed) (text and page number, but not typesetting identical to 1609/1612L/S. Page number at 1/6 from right text edge; last line, left aligned: de re narrationem præbere,lectorem ad Munsterum aliosque Germaniae Historiographos remittimus.),

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).