Abraham Ortelius and the First Atlas - Essays Commemorating
the Quadricentennial of his death 1598-1998
Edited by Marcel van den Broecke, Peter van der Krogt and Peter Meurer.
HES Publishers, ‘t Goy-Houten (Utrecht), Netherlands
(430 pp. Colour/bw plates, appendices, DFL 371,00
This volume is worthy of the man whom it commemorates: it is beautifully
produced, highly informative, readable - and conveys a wealth of scholarly
research and documentation. It belongs at the side of all serious map collectors.
The editors are to be congratulated for publishing if not the only, certainly the most authoritative and well-rounded commemoration of the quadricentennial of the death of Abraham Ortelius, the great Antwerp humanist, map-maker and antiquarian.
What is compelling about the present volume is what it reveals about Ortelius. Most antique map enthusiasts and collectors will know of Ortelius, to a greater or lesser extent. But the contributions to this volume show us how little we actually knew about him. The twenty-one essays (including four extensive bibliographic appendices) rectify this lack of knowledge. Each presents a different facet of Ortelius’ work, interests and accomplishments. They each add a substantive piece to the puzzle of what his true standing and influence was as the father of the first atlas and of historical cartography.
A listing of the chapters gives a flavour of the many facets of Ortelius.
The volume is introduced by Leon Voet, who presents the political and cultural
milieu of Antwerp and the Low Countries in the second half of the 16th
century. This, together with the following essay by Marcel van den Broecke,
help to form a picture of Ortelius the man.
The rest of the essays bear testimony to the amplitude and complexity of this personality. Space does not permit a critical account of each contribution. But the subjects of the essays give a good indication of what the reader will discover and enjoy learning about Ortelius.
They cover: the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum as the first atlas the production of Ortelius’ atlases; his wall maps; Ortelius as the father of historical cartography; title pages to the Theatrum and Parergon; the world maps in the Theatrum; his maps of Africa; of the Americas; of the British Isles; England and Wales, and Ireland; of Spain, of "Germania"; of the Netherlands; of Holland; Ortelius’ humanist concepts of the Far North; his non-geographical pictorial embellishments; his dictionaries of ancient geographical names; of the naming of Mona (Anglesey); and of Ortelius’ travels through parts of Belgian Gaul. In the appendices we have the full listing of the editions and plates of the Theatrum as well as Ortelius’ "Catalogue of Authors of Geographical Tables", and an extensive "Abraham Ortelius Bibliography".
All the contributions are well written, offering us high-quality research and insights, and backed up with many illustrations and plates (colour and black & white).
The final word belongs to the editors themselves who captured the uniqueness of the volume and its subject, Abraham Ortelius. "It is an unpremeditated but fortunate coincidence that collectors (some of them businessmen) and amateur scientists in historical cartography, next to professionals in this field, are the authors of the present volume to commemorate a man who united all these capacities".
Abraham Ortelius and the First Atlas
Essays Commemorating the Quadricentennial of his Death, 1598-1998
Hrsg. Marcel van den Broecke, Peter van der Krogt, Peter H. Meurer. 't Goy-Houten (Utrecht): HES Publishers, 1998. 430 Seiten mit meist schwarz-weissen Abbildungen, 24 x 30 cm. ISBN 90-6194-388-4, geb., NLG 371.-
Dieses Werk entspricht der Wichtigkeit des Mannes, dem es gewidmet ist
- es ist aufwendig gestaltet, sehr informativ, leicht lesbar und enthält
eine Vielfalt von wissenschaftlichen Erkentnissen und Dokumentationen.
Was vor Allem erstaunt ist die Tatsache, dass bisher zwar viel über
Abraham Ortelius geschrieben worden ist, man aber trotzdem durch die 21
Textbeiträge viele neue Facetten kennenlernt. Diese Details ergeben
zusammengefasst die Begleitumstände, die Ortelius zum Schöpfer
des ersten Atlasses und zum Begründer der historischen Kartographie
Der Band beginnt mit einer Beschreibung des politischen und kulturellen Umfeldes in Antwerpen und den Niederlanden zur Zeit der zweite Hälfte des 16. Jahrhunderts. Danach folgt eine Einführung in das Leben und Wirken von Ortelius. Es führte zu weit, wenn nun sämtliche Kapitel besprochen würden. Trotzdem sei ein Teil des weiteren Inhaltes stichwortachtig zusammengefässt: Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, die Atlantenproduktion, die Wandkarten, die Titelblätter von Theatrum und Parergon, die verschiedenen Länder- und Kontinent-Karten, seine Reisen, seine Wörterbücher zu alten geographischen Namen. Im Anhang finden sich je eine Zusammenstellung sämtlicher Ausgaben und Platten des Theatrums sowie des Catalogus Auctorum Tabularum Geographicarum, eine Verzeichnis von Ortelius über zeitgenössische Kartenautoren und Kartographen. Den Abschluss bildet eine ausführliche Bibliographie.
Den Herausgebern kann gratuliert werden zu diesem abgerundeten, fachlich kompetenten und grundlegenden Werk in Erinnerung an den 400. Todestag von Abraham Ortelius. Besser als sie selber kann man die Einzigartigkeit dieses Bandes nicht beschreiben: "Es ist ein ungeplanter, aber glücklicher Zufall, dass Sammler (einige von ihnen Geschäftsleute) und hobbymässige Kartengeschichtsforscher zusammen mit Wissenschaftlern dieses Fachgebietes als Autoren zum vorliegenden Buch mitgearbeitet haben, dessen Inhalt an das werk eines Mannes erinnern soll, der alle diese Fähigkeiten in sich vereint hatte".
Abraham Ortelius and the First World Atlas - Essays Commemmorating the Quadricentennial of his Death, 1598-1998, edited by Marcel van den Broecke, Peter van der Krogt and Peter Meurer. Utrecht: H & S ISBN 90-6194-388-4. Dfl 371.
This sumptuous commemmorative volume provides a fascinating study of
one of the key figures in the history of Renaissance mapmaking, considered
by many as the 'father' of the modern Atlas. It was published in 1998 to
commemorate the Quadricentennial of his death and to coincide with a number
of commemorative exhibitions, most notable that at the Plantin-Moretus
Museum in Antwerp. The book brings together a number of writers - private
collectors, dealers and academics - in an attempt to assess Ortelius the
man, the mapmaker and his wide and varied works from a number of different
perspectives and on a number of different levels and themes. This takes
the form of a series of wide-ranging and varied essays that span the respective
interests of both the scholar and the collector in a pleasing and complementary
The Appendices complement the work still further by providing a useful series of short lists. The first Appendix cross-references all the individual Ortelius maps to both Marcel van den Broecke's more detailed survey of Ortelius' maps and to the editions of the Theatrum and Epitome as shown in the newly revised and illustrated edition of Cornelis Koeman's Atlantes Neerlandici. A further Appendix examines Ortelius' Catalogus Auctorum, providing a short-list of the original authors of maps found in the Theatrum with their respective cross-reference to van den Broecke's 1996 work.
Leon Voet, Honorary Curator of the Plantin Moretus Museum opens with a fascinating resume of Ortelius and his World - the world that was the thriving commercial metropolis of late 16th century Antwerp into which Ortelius was born, where he was raised and where he died. Despite his widespread notoriety and ubiquitous network of contacts and correspondents, Ortelius remained very much an Antwerp man. Voet expertly outlines the manner in which Ortelius was able to develop from a simple Afsetter van Carten (colourist of maps) - the title under which he was listen in the Saint Lucas guild in 1547 and which was initially his principal livelyhood - and from which starting point he was able to assimilate the knowledge, learning, education and attributes of a true Renaissance humanist and a renowned 'cosmographus'.
A series of fascinating essay follow - Marcel van den Broecke introduces the life and work of Ortelius and in passing studies of the known contemporary paintings and portraits of the man. Peter van der Krogt wrestles with the thorny question of whether Ortelius' Theatrum can justifiably be given the accolade of the first atlas. Dirk Imhof examines the important role of Christopher Plantin and his successors in Antwerp in the expansion and development of the Theatrum and Ortelius' pocket atlas, Epitome. Guenther Schilder revisits Volume II of his Monumenta Cartographica Neerlandica (Canaletto, 1987) for a resume of Ortelius' wall maps, complemented by a subsequent essay which reveals the recent discovery of a rare 'palimspest' - an engraving forming the lower Easternmost corner of Ortelius' eight-sheet wall map of Asia - found on the reverse of a late 16th or early 17th century Flemish painting on copper of the Last Judgment. Peter Meurer addresses Ortelius' important role as the father of historical cartography and studies many of the maps found in the meekly named Theatrum supplement, Parergon (accessory work), an atlas of historical maps so often overlooked by collectors and scholars alike, but including the famous and important Peutinger tables, a Roman itinerary map 'rediscovered' by Ortelius and fittingly first published by Moretus very shortly after Ortelius' death in the winter of 1598. Rodney Shirley's two essays provide fascinating insights into the iconography of Ortelius' title pages and frontispieces and into the sources and designs for the maps of the world found in the Theatrum.
Further regional studies look at Ortelius' maps of Africa; of the Americas; of the British Isles; of Spain; of Holland and the Netherlands. In the British Isles study by the Chicago collector Arthur L. Kelly, a hitherto unknown state of Ortelius' British Isles map and a previously unknown derivative of the same map are highlighted. The final essay deals with some of Ortelius' lesser known non-cartographic works - his Dictionaries of Ancient Geographical Names, his Travels through Belgian Gaul and his correspondence with the Welsh cartographer Humphrey Lluyd on the subject of Mona (Anglesey).
The book does not claim to be comprehensive or definitive. What it lacks in cohesion, it makes up for in the breadth of its slightly idiosyncratic and varied coverage. The quality and number of illustrations is superb. The only reservation for those on a limited budget might be the fact that it is only available in hard-back and with a fairly hefty price tag. One might wonder whether an alternative cheaper soft-cover edition might have made it a little more widely accessible to the general map reference book buyer. But then (with apologies to Galle) 'As Ortelius gave mankind an image of the world to see ... so (this book) has given us an image of Ortelius' - certainly as current and all-encompassing a picture of the Man, his Maps, and his Times as you are likely to find for some time to come. A must for the Library of any true cartophile.
Abraham Ortelius and the First Atlas: Essays Commemmorating the Quadricentennial of his Death, 1598-1998. Edited by Marcel van den Broecke, Peter van der Krogt and Peter Meurer. Utrecht: HES Publishers, 1998. ISBN 90 6194 388 4. Pp. 430, illus., 19 col. plates. Ffl 371.00 (cloth).
This is a well-organized and impressive collection of twenty-one essays,
attractively bound in red cloth with a colour plate of Phillip Galle's
portrait of Ortelius mounted on the front cover. No expense has been spared
to create a fitting testament on the quadricentennial of Ortelius's death.
The book sets out to provide a comprehensive introduction to and evaluation
of the importance of Ortelius in the history of cartography. It is perhaps
not the intention to break into new territory for its subject, yet Abraham
Ortelius and the First Atlas supplies a continually refreshing flow
of common sense insights into familiar material, which adds up to a weighty
contribution to the field, as well as making Ortelius interesting and accessible
to the non-expert.
The two opening essays provide an introduction to Ortelius's life and the historical context in which he worked. Neither of these contributions is extensive, given restrictions of space; however, the portrait of Ortelius as a businessman with an astute critical and scientific eye follows the assessment of most recent scholarly work and neatly sets the scene for the essays which follow. The second article, by van den Broecke, also supplies a useful collation of primary material describing Ortelius. Van der Krogt's essay on the Theatrum Orbis as the first atlas of the world, which follows, includes a systematic survey of the contents of the Theatrum and a comparison with other map collations at the time. The fourth essay concludes the scene-setting at the beginning of the book with an outline of the role of Christophe Plantin in the publication and distribution of Ortelius's works. As is the case with the previous three essays, this is a useful and balanced summary of familiar material without indulging in speculative or innovative research.
Close analysis of Ortelius's maps begins with Guenther Schilder's excellent introduction to the early wall maps, based on the author's Monumenta Cartographica Neerlandica II. Each map is placed in its context, followed by a discussion of sources and geographical content. This essay is complemented by Marcus Heinz and Cornelia Reiter's brief treatment of the secondary use of an Ortelius copperplate, reprinted in translation from their article in Cartographica Helvetica 17 (January 1998). The authors note the discovery that an engraving on the reverse of the "Judgment Day Painting" (1608) is a copperplate from Ortelius's Asiae Descriptio, illuminating the commercial practice of copper plate re-use and supplying a stimulus for further research. There follows an excellent and precise essay by Peter Meurer on Ortelius as an historical cartographer. Rodney Shirley then contributes two articles, on Ortelius's title pages and on the world maps in the Theatrum.
Eight essays focusing on the mapping of individual regions follow, written by a mix of professional and amateur experts and collectors. This is undoubtedly the section of the book which is of most interest to the well-informed reader of the history of cartography. In most cases the detailed analysis and copious illustration represent a combined effort which is a tour de force of historical writing, though limitations of space are evident throughout. The last four essays are a miscellaneous group. Van den Broecke joins with Deborah Guenzburger typifying the volume's collaborative ethos, in an original and well illustrated re-examination of the map of "The Wanderings of Patriarch Abraham". Peter Meurer returns to his exploration of the historical and philological work of Ortelius in an essay on the latter's dictionaries of ancient geographical names, once more carefully situated in relation to context and influence. The next essay is an account of Humphrey Lhuyd's letter contained in the Theatrum concerning the naming of the island of Mona and on the origin of an ancient fort off the Dutch coast. The focus on toponymy, and Ortelius travels and collaborative work, leads into the final contribution, on the travel account of the journey of Ortelius and Jean Vivien through "some parts of Belgian Gaul", published in 1584. Hence the concluding emphasis of the essays is on Ortelius's scientific approach working through friendship and collaboration as a true "child of humanism". However, the book does not end there, rather closing with four rigorously compiled appendices: the editions of Ortelius's Theatrum and Epitome; a list of the plates used for the Theatrum; an annotated review of the Theatrum's catalogue of authors followed by a facsimile reprint; and finally, an extensive bibiography provided by Peter van der Krogt.
What has been said so far should already suggest both the importance of this book and the extent of its achievement. Commemmorative anthologies often tend towards bland eulogy and conservative scholarship. In this instance the former has been clearly avoided. The assessments of Ortelius cover a broad range and show a high degree of critical acumen. Many of the leading scholars in the field have worked on this book, and it has been further enhanced by contributions from collectors and amateur enthusiasts. As the Preface is keen to point out, this is in itself an attempt to pay tribute to the collaborative scientific ethos of Ortelius. It also helps to widen the perspective in a large collection of essays focused on a relatively small selection of material. Nonetheless the exclusively geographical focus of the book remains a limitation. Little attention is paid to the extensive and influential friendship circle of Ortelius, beyond those who directly impinge on his geographical interests. The thorny issue of Ortelius's religious affiliations is all but avoided, while no consideration is given to his work in numismatics or other antiquarian studies. This is a shame considering the issues raised by Peter Meurer's analysis of the historical dimension of Ortelius's geographical research.
Although many references are made to the well-rounded, humnist scholar, little attempt is made to cultivate a genuinely holistic approach to Ortelius studies. On the other hand, it should be noted that this may well be in deference to the other essay collection to mark the Ortelius anniversary, namely Abraham Ortelius 1527-1598: cartographe et humaniste, edited by Cockshaw and de Nave. This work complements the book presently under review, since it deals more directly with non-geographical concerns; however, it is far from the same quality of production. It should be noted that a number of scholars contributed to both books.
Abraham Ortelius and the First Atlas is a thorough summary of what is known beyond doubt in this area, drawing heavily upon the previously published works of the contributors. Without engaging with the growing speculative literature on Ortelius, it represents a thorough assessment of the current state of knowledge regarding its subject's involvement in cartography and the history of science. Tribute must also be paid to the style with which this publication has been produced. It is a large assembly of essays, yet it manages to retain a high degree of consistency and gives the impression of a well-integrated collection in which many themes are picked up and re-developed throughout. The preface alludes to the rigorous pruning that took place during the editing process, and without doubt the reader gains hugely from it. Not only are the essays extensively cross-referenced to each other, but the distribution of references, illustrations and primary material among the articles is a great achievement in organization, avoiding repetitiveness and giving a sense of structure to the book as a whole.
Surprisingly, however, inconsistencies creep in at more basic levels. Aside from the frequent evidence that English is a second language to many of the contributors, a number of statistics within the body of the text are misquoted, and there are occasional incongruities between the dates supplied by different scholars (for example Leon Voet misquotes the number of contributors to Ortelius's Album Amicorum). None of the errors is, however, crucial to the context in which they occur, and their oversight is perhaps no more than a testimony to the monumental task which faced the editors. In a period in which multiple new perspectives on Ortelius are being elaborated while a full scale scholarly biography is still lacking, this book is an essential reference point and an excellent stimulus to further research.
Trinity College Dublin
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Page last updated on July 20, 2000