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1598. Theatrum Orbis Terrarum

  • Theatrum Orbis Terrarum
  • Theatrum Orbis Terrarum
  • Theatrum Orbis Terrarum
  • Theatrum Orbis Terrarum

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Year of creation: 
Resolution size (pixels): 
 7525x6086 px
Disk Size: 
 14.7932MiB
Number of pages: 
 190
Place: 
 Amsterdam & Antwerp

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  104.51 х 84.53
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Theatrum Orbis Terrarum

Exceptionally Rare Dutch Edition of the Theatrum Published in Amsterdam by Cornelis Claesz.

A superb, full original hand-color, Dutch-language Ortelius atlas published by Cornelis Claesz, Amsterdam's "great motive force behind publications in the fields of cartography, topography and the art of navigation." (Schilder, page 7)

In 1598, Cornelis Claesz was approaching the height of his career; he published the Loedwijcks journal covering the first Dutch expedition to the East Indies, as well as the Caert-Thressor, which gave him a pocket atlas to compete with those of the Antwerp publishers who still dominated that market. The one thing his impressive repertoire of cartographic offerings still lacked was a folio atlas of the world. Rather than assume the expense of creating a wholly-new atlas, with hundreds of copper plates to be engraved and printed, Claesz came up with a clever solution; if you cannot beat the Antwerp publishers join them. To this end, he arranged to print and publish a Dutch-language edition of Ortelius's Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, at that time the greatest atlas of the world ever produced.

The evidence connecting Cornelis Claesz to this project is quite extensive; first, the Plantin archives have no record of the production of a Dutch edition of 1598 (Van Der Krogt & Koeman 31:121); second, the typeface and initials of this edition are not found in any other edition from the Plantin press, but they do match those used by Claesz - "The type font and the initials that were used for this Dutch edition certainly came from that printing house." (Schilder, page 470; and Van Der Korgt & Koeman); third, the Moretus brothers acquired copies of the Dutch Ortelius from the heirs of Cornelis Claesz, after the latter's death in 1609 (Schilder, page 469).

In all likelihood, Claesz had the maps themselves printed in Antwerp and the text sheets (two at the front and two at the back of the book) and the verso text printed in Amsterdam. Schilder suggests that the maps were printed first, possibly by Vrients, and that the text was printed later, the reverse of how the process usually worked, but the sale to the Moretus brothers in 1612 of a large number of sheets containing only text complicates this theory. (Schilder, page 470) Van Den Broecke's work points to the text being printed first; the text for the 1598D came in two settings, and those settings reappear in the 1610 and 1613 Dutch editions, in which some of the maps have been changed.

Claesz may well have made the contract for the publication of the atlas with Ortelius before the latter's death in June of 1598, with the printing of the maps fulfilled by Vrients. Alternatively, Claesz, ever the savvy businessman, could have swooped in with the proposal immediately following Ortelius's death as a way for Vrients or Ortelius's heirs to make money immediately following the great cartographer's death. (Vrients was the printer, as he did not formally acquire the plates from Ortelius's heirs until 1601.) The latter seems somewhat more likely, as Claesz and Vrients collaborated consistently on cartographic publications from at least 1592 to 1604. (Schilder, pages 470-471)

It should be noted that an Ortelius Theatrum was offered for sale under the name of Cornelis Claesz at the Frankfurt book fair in the spring of 1603: "Theatrun orbis terrarun, Abrahmi Ortelij, tabulis aliquot novis illustrata prostat apud Cornelium Nicolai." (Schilder, page 471)

There remain some intriguing unanswered questions about the nature of the 1598 Dutch Ortelius.

A key bibliographic issue relates to the world map included in the book. According to Van Den Broecke (1-3), the 1598D either contains the final state of the first plate of Ortelius's world map (1.6), the final state of the second plate (2.3, as is the case here, with the corrected South American coastline), or the first state of the final plate (3.1). This in spite of the fact that the book was published eleven years after the creation of the third and final world map plate, which appeared in a few of the 1589G, in the 1592L, 1595L, 1598F, 1601L, etc. editions but not this one. Why would they have used out-of-date world maps for this atlas when a better one existed? And why would three different editions of the world map have been used for this book?

One possible answer could lie in Claesz's publication of Arnold Floris Van Langren's world map of circa 1594 (Shirley 186), which was essentially an updated knockoff of Ortelius's third plate world map (with important improvements in East Asia). Perhaps Claesz did not want to undermine the sale of that separate world map by including a nearly identical version of the map in the atlas. Still, other possibilities exist, perhaps there was some bad blood over the map in which Van Langren declares himself the engraver and the author despite having followed Ortelius so slavishly. The last possibility is that Vrients or the Ortelius heirs simply sent the remaindered world maps from the Ortelius estate to be used up in the atlas and in doing so sent sheets that were much older. This is complicated by the question of the relative chronology of the printing of the maps and text.

It is also worth noting that Denucé mentions a 1598D edition (Plantin Museum, sign. A760) which contains the very rare separately-issued Ortelius-Postel Gallia map, which appears in no stable editions of the Theatrum. (see VDB 35)

Claesz was truly one of the all-time greatest of the Amsterdam map and atlas publishers, and was responsible for some of the great sheet maps and wall maps ever produced. This folio world atlas, published during what might be described as Claesz's annus mirabilis, is truly a gem of Dutch cartographic publishing.

Rarity

Most editions of Ortelius's atlas can be rated for rarity based on the print-run research that Marcel Van Den Broecke did in the Plantin archives. As this Dutch edition was published by Claesz, not Plantin, Vrients, or Moretus, the print run number becomes a bit more difficult to decipher, but the conclusions are clear; this is in all probability the rarest Ortelius atlas edition. Van Den Broecke lists print runs of either 25 or 50 for the 1598D and a combined print run of only 100 for the final three Dutch editions (1598, 1610, and 1613) combined. For comparison, the next rarest run is probably the famed 1570A, the first edition, first issue, of the atlas, of which 100 copies were printed. 300 copies of the 1606 English edition were printed.

Theatrum Orbis Terrarum

Ortelius's Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (or "Theater of the World") is widely considered to be the first modern atlas, meaning that this was the first published set of uniform maps with supporting text gathered in book form. Previous bound map collections exist, for example the Italian Lafreri atlases, but these were sets of maps selected and bound together on demand. The Theatrum, in contrast, was the best available summary of sixteenth-century cartographic knowledge, covering much of the exploration of the world in the century following the discovery of America.

The atlas was first published in 1570 Antwerp. Ortelius’ atlas outperformed later competing atlases from other cartographic luminaries like the De Jode and the Mercator family. The broad appeal of the work is demonstrated by the array of languages in which the atlas appeared: in addition to Latin, the atlas was published with text in Dutch, French, German, Italian, Spanish, and English. Between 1570 and 1612, at least 31 editions of the atlas were published in seven languages. The editions grew over time, with the first edition having had 53 maps, and the 1612 edition having 167.

At the time of its publication, the Theatrum was the most expensive book ever produced. Ortelius created all maps personally, hand drawing the rough sketches. Those drawings were then interpreted into prints by his engravers Frans Hogenberg, Ambrosius Arsenius, and Ferdinand Arsenius.

After Ortelius's death in 1598, the copper plates for his atlas passed to his heirs. They, in turn, sold the collection to Jan Baptist Vrients (1522-1612) in 1601. Vrients added new maps and published the atlas until his own death in 1612. Vrients's widow then sold the plates to the Moretus brothers, who were the successors of Christoffel Plantin. Recent research has unearthed examples of the atlas with maps dated to 1640.

Schilder, MCN, volume VII; Van Der Krogt & Koeman 31:121; Van Den Broecke, Ortelius Atlas Maps, p. 26.

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Item information:

Year of creation:
Size:
7525x6086 px
Disk:
14.7932MiB
Number of pages:
190
Place:
Amsterdam & Antwerp
Author:
Abraham Ortelius. Cornelis Claesz.
$24.99

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