Leen Helmink Antique Maps

Antique map of the British Isles by Ortelius

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Stock number: 18609

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Abraham Ortelius (biography)


Anglia, Scotiae et Hiberniae Sive Britannicar: Insularum Descriptio.

First Published

Antwerp, 1570

This Edition

1571 Dutch


34.5 x 49.5 cms




This Item is Sold



A very early example, from the 1571 Dutch edition. Pristine and even imprint of the copper plate. In attractive original colour, applied by the Antwerp publishing house. Ample margins all around. With the Ortelius' description from the map of Scotland added in a manuscript hand on verso. A very desirable collector's example.

Early Printed Maps of the British Isles

Abraham Ortelius map of the British Isles is based directly on the large map by his friend Gerard Mercator, to whom due acknowledgement appeared among the many prominent cartographers listed by Ortelius in the preamble of his new atlas, the 'Theatrum Orbis Terrarum'. Unlike Mercator, Ortelius was not an engraver and only prepared a few maps himself, notably those appearing under his name in the classical section of his atlas, or the 'Parergon'. Rather, he was an entrepreneurial map dealer, a keen collector of coins, and an active traveller and correspondent. He was the first publisher to have the latest maps from the best sources engraved to a uniform size for his atlas. Through its launching, pre-eminence in map publishing was transferred from Italy to the Netherlands, leading to over 100 years of Dutch supremacy in all facets of cartographical production.

Ortelius' British Isles map is distinguished by a more sophisticated and ebullient style of engraving than most of the German and Italian examples hitherto. The cartouche containing descriptive text is surrounded by ornate strapwork; there is a royal coat of arms, a compass and scale, and five ships. Many of the maps in Ortelius' atlas were engraved by Francis Hogenberg, but whether he was personally responsible for the British Isles map is not established for certain. Flemish influence - and/or a misreading of the text - is evident in the rendering of some of the names, e.g. Ormyskyrk for Ormskirk and Dantre for Daventry, and the omission of the relatively important see of Peterborough.


Antique Maps - A Collector's Guide

This is probably the earliest map of the British Isles still readily available in the early 1980s, and the collector will at once see that the proportions of Ireland and Scotland compared with England and Wales are not correct; but, nevertheless, it was an influential map with a very wide circulation.

Many of the names betray its ecclesiastical sources; it was issued only about thirty years after the dissolution of the Monasteries and quite a number of religious institutions shown on it no longer existed when it was published.

No roads, rivers or bridges are shown, although towns where fords would have been are indicated, but it would have been practically useless as a route map. It should be remembered, of course, that speeds were so much slower when travelling in the sixteenth century that exact directions could easily be obtained by word of mouth provided the general route was known.

Examples of this map may be found with original colour or uncoloured and whilst an early coloured example is preferable for a collection, the extra premium on the price may put this beyond many collector's pockets.

(Moreland & Bannister).

Abraham Ortelius (1527-1598)

Abraham Ortelius is the most famous and most collected of all early cartographers. In 1570 he published the first comprehensive collection of maps of all parts of the world, the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum ("Theatre of the World"), the first modern atlas as we know it.

"Abraham Ortel, better known as Ortelius, was born in Antwerp and after studying Greek, Latin and mathematics set up business there with his sister, as a book dealer and ‘painter of maps'. Traveling widely, especially to the great book fairs, his business prospered and he established contacts with the literati in many lands. On one such visit to England, possibly seeking temporary refuge from religious persecution, he met William Camden whom he is said to have encouraged in the production of the Britannia.

A turning point in his career was reached in 1564 with the publication of a World Map in eight sheets of which only one copy is known: other individual maps followed and then – at the suggestion of a friend - he gathered together a collection of maps from contacts among European cartographers and had them engraved in uniform size and issued in 1570 as the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (Atlas of the Whole World). Although Lafreri and others in Italy had published collections of ‘modern' maps in book form in earlier years, the Theatrum was the first uniformly sized, systematic collection of maps and hence can be called the first atlas, although that term itself was not used until twenty years later by Mercator.

The Theatrum, with most of its maps elegantly engraved by Frans Hogenberg, was an instant success and appeared in numerous editions in different languages including addenda issued from time to time incorporating the latest contemporary knowledge and discoveries. The final edition appeared in 1612. Unlike many of his contemporaries Ortelius noted his sources of information and in the first edition acknowledgement was made to eighty-seven different cartographers.

Apart from the modern maps in his major atlas, Ortelius himself compiled a series of historical maps known as the Parergon Theatri which appeared from 1579 onwards, sometimes as a separate publication and sometimes incorporated in the Theatrum."

(Moreland and Bannister)

"The maker of the ‘first atlas', the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (1570), started his career as a colorist of maps. Later, he became a seller of books, prints and maps. His scientific and collecting interests developed in harmony with those of a merchant. He was first and foremost a historian. Geography for him was the ‘eye of history', which may explain why, in addition to coins and historical objects, he also collected maps. On the basis of his extensive travels through Europe and with the help of his international circle of friends, Ortelius was able to build a collection of the most up-to-date maps available.

The unique position held by Ortelius's Theatrum in the history of cartography is to be attributed primarily to its qualification as ‘the world's first regularly produced atlas.' Its great commercial success enabled it to make a great contribution to ‘geographical culture' throughout Europe at the end of the sixteenth century. Shape and contents set the standard for later atlases, when the centre of the map trade moved from Antwerp to Amsterdam. The characteristic feature of the Theatrum is that it consists of two elements, text and maps. Another important aspect is that it was the first undertaking of its kind to reduce the best available maps to a uniform format. To that end, maps of various formats and styles had to be generalized just like the modern atlas publisher of today would do. In selecting maps for his compilation, Ortelius was guided by his critical spirit and his encyclopaedic knowledge of maps. But Ortelius did more than the present atlas makers: he mentioned the names of the authors of the original maps and added the names of many other cartographers and geographers to his list. This ‘catalogus auctorum tabularum geographicum,' printed in the Theatrum, is one of the major peculiarities of the atlas. Ortelius and his successors kept his list of map authors up-to-date. In the first edition of 1570 the list included 87 names. In the posthumous edition of 1603, it contained 183 names.

Abraham Ortelius himself drew all his maps in manuscript before passing them to the engravers. In the preface to the Theatrum he stated that all the plates were engraved by Frans Hogenberg, who probably was assisted by Ambrosius and Ferdinand Arsenius (= Aertsen). The first edition of the Theatrum is dated 20 May 1570 and includes 53 maps.

The Theatrum was printed at Ortelius's expense first by Gielis Coppens van Diest, an Antwerp printer who had experience with printing cosmographical works. From 1539 onwards, Van Diest had printed various editions of Apianus's Cosmographia, edited by Gemma Frisius, and in 1552 he printed Honterus's Rudimentorum Cosmograhicorum... Libri IIII. Gielis Coppens van Diest was succeeded as printer of the Theatrum in 1573 by his son Anthonis, who in turn was followed by Gillis van den Rade, who printed the 1575 edition. From 1579 onwards Christoffel Plantin printed the Theatrum, still at Ortelius's own expense. Plantin and later his successors continued printing the work until Ortelius's heirs sold the copperplates and the publication rights in 1601 to Jan Baptist Vrients, who added some new maps. After 1612, the year of Vrients's death, the copperplates passed to the Moretus brothers, the successors of Christoffel Plantin.

The editions of the Theatrum may be subdivided into five groups on the basis of the number of maps. The first group contains 53 maps, 18 maps were added. The second group has 70 maps (one of the 18 new maps replaced a previous one). In 1579 another expansion was issued with 23 maps. Some maps replaced older ones, so as of that date the Theatrum contained 112. In 1590 a fourth addition followed with 22 maps. The editions then had 134 maps. A final, fifth expansion with 17 maps followed in 1595, bringing the total to 151."

(Peter van der Krogt, Atlantes Neerlandici New Edition, Volume III)