Abraham Ortelius (Ortel) was born in Antwerp. The Ortel family originally came from Augsberg, Germany in 1535. The family was suspected of practicing Protestantism, and after his father’s death he was taken to England to avoid the inquisition. He and his family moved back to Antwerp in 1547 and he trained as a map engraver. He then was able to enter the Guild of St. Luke as a map illuminator and he began engraving large maps. A Dutch merchant seaman asked him to solve the problem of large bulky roles of maps that were cumbersome when piloting a ship. Ortelius then created smaller equal size maps, bound them together into a book, and published his landmark first modern atlas: “Theatrum Orbis Terrarum” with 53 maps. He did not create the maps and listed all the authors in the Atlas. The engravers were Franz Hogenberg and others, and printed by The Plantin Press in Antwerp. While not the first publisher to create an atlas, Ortelius received the credit. By 1572 there were also Dutch, French, and German editions. He became extremely successful, producing approximately 860,000 maps, free standing and in atlases. His “Wanderings of Abraham" map was the progenitor of Dutch Decorative Cartography in the 17th century.
This portrait by Phillip Galle in 1579 depicts Ortelius in an ermine vest, a sign of great wealth. The legend under the portrait states “Ortelius gave mankind an image of the world to see, Galle gave the world the image of Ortelius.” In 1579, Ortelius, who also created historical maps, created an historical atlas called Parergon. It was a supplement for which he drew and engraved the maps himself.
Ortelius was the first person, after studying the contours of the eastern Americas and western Europe and Africa to correctly suggest that they separated due to continental drift.
1. Abraham Ortelius Wikipedia
2. van den Broecke, Marcel “Ortelius Atlas Maps” ISBN 90 6194 308 6
3. Broecke,Krogt&Meurer edit.“Abraham Ortelius and the First Atlas” ISBN 906194388u4
4. Binding, Paul, ‘Imagined Corners” ISBN 0747230404
Curated text by Leonard Rothman December 2020.
Image from The Leonard and Juliet Rothman Holy Lands Map Collection at Stanford Libraries: