Reviews of
Marcel van den Broecke: Ortelius Atlas Maps

This is what reviewers say about the book Ortelius Atlas Maps, an illustrated guide, 1996

The International Journal for the History of Cartography Volume 49, 1997

Librarians, scholars and collectors seeking information about old maps have occasionally glanced wistfully at the field of philately. The logical arrangement, compact description, copious illustration and universal coverage of the Scott, Gibbons and other stamp catalogues were proof that truly universal bibliography for a species of graphic printing was possible. Of course, the universe of maps is enormously larger and has a much more complicated history than the universe of stamps, which is comprehended in (only!) five volumes in the latest Scott catalogue. But Marcel Van den Broecke's Guide shows what can be done by applying the stamp-catalogue model to a discrete series of maps, and it succeeds admirably.

The preliminaries include a bibliographical sketch of Ortelius, which very usefully reprints in full the 1606 English translation of the abridged life by Francis Sweert. There follow brief accounts of the origins of the atlas, of Ortelius's other publications, a complete list of the variant plates used in all editions of the atlas, and thoughtful comments on the varieties of plate and state changes and on the texts on the versos of the maps. A unique feature of Van den Broecke's work is his estimates on the size of the atlas editions and, by extrapolation, of the number of copies printed from each individual plate, figures based on his earlier work published in the Map Collector. The results of this research are intriguing: 7,550 copies of the full atlas from 1570 to 1612, an average edition size of 235, two editions of 500 copies, several of only 75. Van den Broecke is quick to point out that 'these numbers are approximations only', but they are highly educated approximations, and unlikely to be far from the mark. He goes on to estimate the number of surviving copies at about 1,600 (500 of them in private hands), for a survival rate of 20 per cent.

No matter how I view these figures I find them startling. On the one hand, a loss of 80 per cent of the total atlases printed seems like a catastrophic destruction; on the other hand, 1,600 extant copies is an enormous number of sixteenth-century books. And of course, not all the 'lost' atlases were wholly destroyed. Many, perhaps most, have been broken and the maps dispersed, a practice dictated by the iron laws of economics in which the sum of the parts exceeds the value of the whole. Van den Broecke deplores the fact that 'books that were made 400 years ago are now being taken apart, particularly if they are in good shape'. He goes on to hope that 'once a good copy of the Theatrum is worth considerably more than its constituent maps, the practice of breaking may come to an end'. In the mean time, his Guide will make it much easier to deal with the pieces.

The heart of the Guide comes in section four, containing descriptions of each of the 234 plates, arranged in geographical order. Most descriptions are complete on one page. Each begins with a half-tone reproduction measuring about 7 x 10 cm. These are large enough and well enough printed so that titles can be read and the general arrangement of data and decorative features easily discerned. Plate sizes are given in millimeters, followed by natural scale and the map number in Koeman and other standard cartobibliographies. The next paragraph indicated the editions in which the plate appears, given in the form '1574F25' which is to be read as 'page 25 in the French edition of 1574'. The 'approximate number of copies printed' is given, based on estimated size of the atlas editions. Variant states (when known, and the author asks to be informed of new discoveries), are described as briefly as possible in the next paragraph and numbered decimally. Brief remarks, notes on the cartographic sources of the maps, and references complete an entry.

Probably the most common use of the Guide will be by curators, dealers, and collectors attempting to determine the publication date of loose maps. To test this function, I laid out eight different editions of the Theatrum in random order, selected three maps randomly in each volume, and checked each of the resulting 24 maps in the Guide. Thanks to the index of titles, the entries were quickly located, and the whole procedure took about forty minutes. Of the 24 plates, it was possible to determine the single correct edition for eight. Another ten could be narrowed down to the choice between two editions; in two of the ten instances, however, neither of the two 'possible' choices was correct. Another two plates depended on being able to make the distinction between 'large' and 'small' page numbers, which presumably would have been possible for me with a little more practice. Two plates yielded three possible editions, including the correct one. One plate with Dutch text was not listed as appearing in any Dutch edition, another plate identified as being from the 1612 Italian edition was actually the edition of 1608.

Of course, Van den Broecke never suggests that precise identification of edition or state will always be possible; as he observes, the inherent variability of printed books in the handpress era means that 'there is no "canonical" version of an edition as regards texts or plates, just probability that certain plates will be included and that texts will appear in a certain form'. All in all, it seems to me that the ability to quickly identify one third of my admittedly small sample as coming from the correct edition, and another third as coming from one of two editions, one of which was correct, constitutes a useful marshalling of probability.

A secondary, but I think very important, function of the Van den Broecke's book is to provide, in effect, minifacsimiles of all maps from the Theatrum. Surely, many scholars will profit from being able to visually scan the entire corpus of these maps in one easily handled volume, a volume whose tall, narrow format encourages portability (large pockets will accommodate it) and whose fine paper and sound binding will make for extended use. Van den Broecke and HES have produced a high-quality and extremely useful handbook, one bound to serve as a standard cartobibliographical source for many years. All map librarians, collectors, dealers and serious students of sixteenth- century cartography will want a copy.

Robert W. Karrow, Jr. The Newberry Library.

An abbreviated version of this review appeared in Map Line 82-83, winter 1997.

The following review of Marcel van den Broecke's Ortelius Atlas Maps appeared in Mercator's World, January 1998, page 60:

Tracking Ortelius

To the benefit of scholars, collectors and all those interested in the Renaissance, recent works have re-examined the life and achievements of renowned Antwerp cartographer Abraham Ortelius (1527-1598), especially his great Theatrum Orbis Terrarum. Two notable exampls are Guenter Schilder's superb Monumenta Cartographica Neerlandica II (1987) and Robert Karrow's excellent Mapmakers of the Sixteenth Century and Their Maps (1993). On the occasion of the quatrocentennary of Ortelius' death, we now add to this list Ortelius Atlas Maps, the culmination of a fifteen-year research project by Marcel P.R. van den Broecke, lecturer in phonetics at Utrecht University, editor of Journal of Phonetics, Ortelius map collector, and co-editor with Peter van der Krogt of the forthcoming Ortelius commemmorative volume titled I Scorn and Adorn with Mind and Hand: Abraham Ortelius 1598-1998. As the subtitle indicates, Ortelius Atlas Maps is an illustrated guide to the maps of the Theatrum. Initially published in 1570, the Theatrum was the first and defining atlas. Over numerous editions in seven languages and approximately 7,000 copies issued through at least 1612, the number of maps it contained increased from 53 to 166. It also became a bestseller and one of the most expensive books of the sixteenth century and early seventeenth century.

To this impressive output van den Broecke brings order and clarity. Ortelius Atlas Maps can now be considered the standard guide for the identification of specific maps in the respective editions of the Theatrum. Brief opening sections provide a biography of Ortelius and a precise survey of the various editions (including facsimiles), but the majority of the book is devoted to descriptions of the individual maps. Each concise listing begins with a black-and-white illustration of the map, measuring 10 by 15 cm, and continues with a one- to two-page segment that provides a physical description of the map, a consideration of its states, and a list of cartographic sources for easy reference. In several cases, previously unknown maps are identified and depicted for the first time. For example, the recently discovered late Spanish state (post-1618) of Americae Sive Novi Orbis, Nova Descriptio, which shows the Le Maire Strait and deletes the date 1587 nearby in the southern continent, from an edition of the atlas dating perhaps to circa 1640, is cited near the end of the third listing for this map. The volume concludes with two helpful indexes of the map plates (by area and by title), a bibliography, and an illustrated appendix.

Ortelius Atlas Maps is a handy volume, marked by quality material, design, construction and printing. Its well-organized, clearly written, thorough, and current account of the Theatrum and its maps makes it quite complementary to other contemporary scholarship in the field, especially Karrow. Marcel P.R. van den Broecke has authored a book that certainly will be of significant value to collectors and scholars.

Dennis Reinhartz

Finally, a review in German of Marcel van den Broecke's Ortelius Atlas Maps  which appeared in Cartographica Helvetica, nr. 15,  January 1997, p. 50

Das erstmals 1570 und dann bis 1612 in ueber dreissig regulaeren Ausgaben in unterschiedlichen Sprachen in Antwerpen gedruckte Theatrum Orbis Terrarum von Abraham Ortelius (1527-1598) ist in mehrerlei Hinsicht ein er der grossen Meilensteine der Atlantengeschichte. Der "moderne" Kartenteil stellt den ersten Atlas im Sinne aller Definitionen der Gegenwart dar. Die ab 1592 als separater Teil unter dem Titel Parergon abgetrennten Karten mit historischen Inhalten haben als erster Geschichtsatlas zu gelten. Das Werk ist durch die Nennung der Autoren auf den Karten und vor allem in einem beigegebenen Catalogus Auctorum eine Fundgrube fuer die heutige kartographiegeschichtliche Forschung.

Entsprechend ist die Literatur zum Theatrum reichhaltiger als zu den meisten anderen alten Atlaswerken. Quellenkundliche Untersuchungen wurden von Bagrow (1928-1930), Meurer (1991) und Karrow (1993) vorgelegt. Das heute gueltige Verzeichnis der einzelnen Ausgaben (mit Grobkollationierung) ist in Band III (1967) der Atlantes Neerlandici von Cornelis Koeman gegeben. Eine bisher noch bestehende kartobibliographische Luecke, die detaillierte Erfassung aller im Verlauf von vierzig Jahren im Theatrum erschienenen Karten einschliesslich ihrer Druckzustaende und der zu ihrer Produktion verwendete Kupferplatten, wird durch die hier angezeigte Publikation geschlossen. Durch seine langjaehrige Taetigkeit als auf Ortelius spezialisierte Kartenantiquar ist Marcel van den Broecke wie kaum ein anderer fuer diese Aufgabe geeignet.

Entstanden ist ein hilfreiches Vademecum in Form eines akribischen Kataloges der ingesamt 234 verwendeten Kupferplatten (Nr. 1-177 Theatrum, Nr. 178-234 Parergon). Jede Eintrag besteht aus einer Abbildung (ca. 10 x 7,5 cm), Zitat von Titel und weitere Beschriftungen, Daten zu Plattenformat (warum nicht Druckformat?), Massstab und Vorkommen in den unterschiedlichen Theatrum-Ausgaben, einer Schaetzung zur Anzahl der gedruckten Exemplare, Bemerkungen zu den verwendeten Quellen und - nach Bedarf - zu Druckzustaenden und Merkmalen der Plattenunterschiede. In der Anzahl der ermittelten Kupferplatten kommt Van den Broecke erheblich ueber Koeman hinaus, auch hat er ein regionales Ordnungschema statt einer chronologische Abfolge gewaehlt. Dies rechtfertigt die Loesung von der etablierten, im Querverweis genannten Zaehlung nach Koeman. Die "vdB-Nr" wird sicherlich die kuenftige Zitierweise fuer Ortelius-Karten in Antiquariat und Wissenschaft sein.

Einige methodische Aspekte regen zu weitere Diskussion an. Die vom Autor auch schon in fruehere Aufsaetzen angestellten Ueberlegungen zu den Auflagehoehen beruhen auf Hochrechnungen auf der basis von heute erhaltene Exemplaren in Bibliotheken und Handel. Ich halte es aber weiterhin fuer fraglich, ob man auf dieser grundlage wirklich zu so praezisen Werten kommen kann, wie sie bei Marcel van den Broecke gegeben sind (z.B. zur Wuerttemberg-Karte unter Nr. 113: approximate number of copies printed: 5775). Noch nicht ganz zu Ende gebracht scheint mir auch das Problem der "Zustaende", das sich fuer die Altkartenbibliographie anders stellt als etwa in der Katalogisierung von Kuenstlergraphik. Van den Broecke stellt - und darin ist ihm zuzustimmen - nur solche Unterschiede heraus, in denen eine dezidierte Absicht des bearbeitenden Stechers erkennbar ist (z.B. Korrektur offensichlicher Schreibfehler topographische Ergaenzungen und Aenderungen von Jahresdaten). Festzuhalten ist jedoch, dass die meisten der hier erfassten Platten im Laufe ihrer langjaehrigen Verwendung mehrfach aufgestochen worden sind. Dabei kam es immer wieder zu geringfuegigen weiteren Aenderungen - d.h. zu unbeabsichtigten Fluechtigkeitsfehlern - etwa in der Schreibweise einzelner Ortsnahmen. Dies faellt aber nur im exzessiv genauen paralellen Vergleich einer groesseren Anzahl von Exemplaren auf, und irgendwann ist dann hier die Grenze des bibliographischen Scholastizismus erreicht.

Peter H. Meurer


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