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Abraham Ortelius (biography)
PRESBITERI IOHANNIS sive ABISSINORUM IMPERII
37.2 x 43.7 cms
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Ortelius' map of the kingdom of the legendary Prester John.
"Many stories as early as the year 1122 centred on Prester John, who was thought to have been a Tartar chief converted to Christianity, ruling somewhere in the East beyond Armenia and Persia. As a great warrior, all-powerful in Asia, his help was sought as an ally by the Crusaders in their attempts to free Jerusalem from the Saracens. Stories of his existence were taken so literally that emissaries and letters were despatched to him on a number of occasions by the Popes; the travels of Marco Polo and others, in their search for his Kingdom, led directly to the re-establishment of links with China and other Eastern lands.
Later legends placed Prester John in Abyssinia or Central Africa, an idea which influenced not a little the Kings of Portugal in their efforts to penetrate the Indian Ocean, and by linking up with the mythical Kingdom, to outflank the power of Islam. Ortelius' map of 1573 entitled 'A Representation of the Empire of Prester John, or of the Abyssynians', showing Africa from the Mediterranean to the Mountains of the Moon, placed well below the Equator, is a splendid illustration of the ideas current even in the sixteenth century."
(Moreland & Bannister).
"By 1573 Ortelius had constructed for his 'Theatrum' a new map of eastern and central Africa: 'A representation of the empire of the empire of Prester John, or, of the Abyssinians'. An inset panel gives a 17-line list of the grand titles that define David, the current Prester John and successor of the original, whose descent was supposed to be traceable back to Solomon. He was the Prester John sought by popes and kings of the Middle Ages, who hopes to find this legendary Christian priest-emperor first in India or Asia, then, later, in Africa. The Portuguese eventually identified him with the kings of Abyssinia (the Portuguese name, derived from the Arabic, for what the ancients called - as we do - 'Ethiopia).
One Portuguese traveler, a priest named Fransisco Alvares, spent six years in Abyssinia (from 1520 to 1526). He wrote about David and his isolated empire, where, to prevent civil war, the sons of the Prester were 'kept shut up in a mountain ... except the first-born, the heir.' Deep within the Prester's mountains, Ortelius shows the Nile rising from Lakes Zaire and Zaflan: 'There are tritons and sirens in this lake', reads a legend in one of them.
(Tooley & Bricker).
PRESBITERI/IOHANNIS, SI:/VE, ABISSINO:/RVM IMPERII/DESCRIPTIO.
<= A representation of
Frame in upper left with 17 lines of text:
DAVID SVPREMVS MEORVM REGORVM, A/DEO VNICE DILECTVS, COLVMNA FIDEI,/ ORTVS EX STIRPE IVDA, FILIVS DAVID,/ FILIVS SALOMONIS, FILIVS COLVMNAE/SIONIS, FILIVS EX SEMINE IACOB, FILIVS/ MANVS MARIAE, FILIVS NAHV SECVNDV/CARNEM, FILIVS SANCTORVM PETRI ET/ PAVLI SECVNDVM GRATIAM; IMPERATOR/ SVPERIORIS ET MAIORIS AETHIOPIAE,ET/ AMPLISSIMORVM REGNORVM IVRISDIC:/ TIONVM ET TERRARVM; REX GOAE, CAFFA:/ TES, FATIGAR, ANGOTAE, BARV, BALIGVANZAE,/ ADEAE, VANGVAE, GOIAMAE, VBI NILI FONTES,/ AMARAE, BANGVAMEDRI, AMBEAE, VANGVCI,/ TIGREMAHON, SABAIM PATRIAE REGINAE SA:/ BAE,BARNAGASSI; ET DOMINVS VSQVE IN NV:/ BIAM QVAE IN AEGYPTVM EXTENDITVR.
<= King David is the highest of my Kings, , specially chosen by God, pillar of faith, born from the tribe of Judah, son of David, son of Salomon, son of the pillar of Zion, son from the seed of Jacob, son of the hand of Maria, son of Nahum's flesh, son of the holy Peter and Paul in mercy, Emperor of upper and great ├åthiopia, and of the legal grounds and countries of the most elevated kingdoms; King of Goa, Caffates, Fatigar, Angota, Baru, Balinguanza, Adea, Vangua, Goiama where the Nile has its source, of Amara, Banguamedrum, Ambea, Vangucum, Tigremahon, of Saba, homeland of the Queen of Saba, of Barnagassum and Lord of all of Namibia, extending all the way to Egypt>.
Remarks: Priest John is a mythical king with a long cartographic history, who was supposed to provide a stronghold against the Barbarians, and to be an ally for crusaders. His kingdom was originally surmised to have been located in India (for instance by Waldseemüller in 1507), but was later placed in Africa (Gemma Frisius-Ptolemy 1522). "
(Van den Broecke).
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)