Abraham Ortelius (1527–1598)

Next to Gerardus Mercator, Ortelius was the greatest geographer of his age. Born at Antwerp, he was of German origin, his family coming from Augsburg. His father was a merchant who sympathised with the Lutheran cause. After a good education, Ortelius travelled extensively in Western Europe, especially in the Netherlands, South and West Germany, France, England, Ireland, and Italy. He began as a map-engraver, having entered the Antwerp guild of St Luke as a map illuminator in 1547. But his main career was that of a businessman, and most of his journeys before 1560 were for commercial purposes, such as his yearly visits to the Frankfort fair where he met the great cartographer, Gerardus Mercator. In 1560, however, when travelling with Mercator to Trier, Lorraine and Poitiers, he seems to have been attracted, largely by Mercator's influence, towards the career of a scientific geographer. In 1564, he completed his first map of the world. He also published a map of Egypt in 1565, a plan of Britenburg Castle on the coast of Holland, and perhaps a map of Asia. In 1570, Gilles Coppens de Diest at Antwerp issued Ortelius' ground-breaking work, the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, for which Ortelius rose to great fame in the field. It was the first modern atlas comprising 53 maps and was an instant success. Three Latin editions of this, besides a Flemish, a French, and a German edition, appeared before the end of 1572; twenty-five editions came out before Ortelius' death in 1598; and several others were published subsequently, as demand for his works continued until about 1612. Most of the maps were admittedly reproductions (a list of 87 authors is given by Ortelius himself), and many discrepancies of delineation or nomenclature occur. Errors, of course, abound, both in general conceptions and in detail; for example, South America is very faulty in outline, and in Scotland the Grampians lie between the Forth and the Clyde; but, taken as a whole, this atlas with its accompanying text was a monument of rare erudition and industry. Its immediate precursor and prototype was a collection of thirty-eight maps of European lands, and of Asia, Africa, Tartary and Egypt, gathered together by the wealth and enterprise, and through the agents, of Ortelius' friend and patron, Gilles Hooftman, lord of Cleydael and Aertselaer: most of these were printed in Rome, eight or nine only in Belgium. In 1573, Ortelius published seventeen supplementary maps under the title of Additamentum Theatri Orbis Terrarum. By this time he had formed a fine collection of coins, medals and antiques, and this produced (also in 1573, published by Philippe Galle of Antwerp) his Deorum dearumque capita . . . ex Museo Ortelii. In 1575, he was appointed geographer to the king of Spain, Philip II, on the recommendation of Arius Montanus, who vouched for his orthodoxy (his family, as early as 1535, had fallen under suspicion of Protestantism). In 1578, he laid the basis of a critical treatment of ancient geography by his Synonymia geographic (republished as Thesaurus geographicus in 1596). In 1584, he brought out his Nomenclator Ptolemaicus, his Parergon (a series of maps illustrating ancient history, sacred and secular), and his Itinerarium per nonnullas Galliae Belgicae partes (reprinted in Hegenitius, Itin. Frisio-Holl.), a record of a journey in Belgium and the Rhineland made in 1575. He completed other works, and also aided Welser in his edition of the Peutinger Table in 1598. In 1596, he received a presentation from Antwerp city, similar to that afterwards bestowed on Rubens; his death at Antwerp and burial in St Michael's Abbey church were marked by public mourning.

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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