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 Ortelius: overview
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'Abraham Ortelius (1527-1598), Patriarch of our Atlas' is an exhibition that is being held to commemorate Abraham Ortelius' death 400 years ago. Since the Amsterdam University Library has by far the largest collection of Ortelius atlases in the Netherlands, it decided to honour this great Antwerp pioneer of atlas making this way. Nineteen large folio atlases, seventeen pocket atlases and hundreds of loose sheet atlas maps constitute an impressive subcollection, though it is only a fraction of the hundreds of atlases dating back to before 1800 and the thousands of early map leaves in the Library's cartographic collections.

Abraham Ortelius was the first to produce a 'true' world atlas, which he edited and published in Antwerp from 1570 onwards. The exhibition opens with the pre-Ortelius development of the atlas, especially Ptolemy's classical Geographia; its first printed edition was published in Bologna in 1477. This 'atlas' developed from a set of maps of the Classical world, an appendix to the eight books of Ptolemy's Geographia, into a Renaissance product of cartographic evolution. Before Ortelius, atlases used to be composed ad hoc, consisting of loose sheet maps bound by a mapseller according to the wishes of the future owner. However, these 'atlases' were not true atlases, since they had no regular character and uniform execution.

Next, Ortelius' life and works are shown. Books from his collection and his letters are on display. Ortelius was a highly diplomatic, intelligent, sociable figure, who ran a successful business selling antiques, books and maps. He had been a map colorist as well, and his membership in the Guild of St. Luke had acquainted him with all the well-known Antwerp painters and artists. He travelled widely for business and pleasure, and remained single throughout his life. His main personal interests were Classical history, archaeology, numismatics and natural history, and he had a large private collection and library. Antwerp was a prosperous but very unstable city, the site of frequent religious and political upheaval. In 1585, the Spaniards conquered the city, and its access to the sea was cut off by the Dutch rebels. Many people in what was then the Southern Netherlands fled to the North, and to England and Germany. This restless city was nonetheless the birthplace of the pioneering Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, the world's first atlas.

Besides his world atlas, Abraham Ortelius also created the Parergon, an atlas of Classical history. It was Ortelius' monument to his hobby and love: the Classical world. The most striking of its maps was the facsimile 'avant-la-lettre' of the Peutinger Map, a Roman road map. The original, preserved in the Austrian National Library, in Vienna, is about 150% larger. A reproduction of this famous cartographic landmark crosses the exhibition room at about 120% of its size. In 1578 the immediate success of the large Theatrum led Philips Galle to publish a pocket edition of Ortelius' map book. Editions of this Epitome in French, Latin, Dutch and Italian were very popular - and less expensive.

Ortelius' contemporaries and their atlases are addressed as well, particularly their importance to the seventeenth-century boom of atlas cartography in Amsterdam. Due to circumstances beyond Ortelius' control, the second decade of the seventeenth century marked the end of the Theatrum. Although Johannes Baptista Vrients, after having acquired the plates of the Theatrum in 1601, succeeded in publishing a number of important editions, the final official Theatrum was to be printed by Plantin-Moretus in 1612. Mercator's Atlas took over, its copperplates having been sold by Mercator's heirs to an Amsterdam cartographer of Southern origin, Jodocus Hondius, in 1604. His Atlas, the first map book to bear this name, became a source of inspiration for all the large and famous Amsterdam atlases.

A folder with a short list of the items on exhibit is available. It includes three of the Library's many Geographias by Ptolemy, all nineteen of the large folio atlases by Ortelius, many pocket editions of his Theatrum and the rare first editions of the atlases of his contemporaries: Gerard de Jode and Gerard Mercator. One of the earliest versions of the famous atlas by Willem Blaeu, meant to be an Appendix to the maps of Ortelius and Mercator, is also on display and reference is made to the precious nine-volume Atlas Maior, which is on permanent display in the Map Room in its original wooden cabinet. Together with the town books of the Netherlands, this peak of Amsterdam atlas cartography was reached by Joan Blaeu in 1664. The walls and show cases in the exhibition room display some forty nicely encadred maps from Ortelius' Theatrum and his Parergon, including comparisons of several states of the many copperplates. Many of the separate atlas maps were purchased for the collection in 1910 by the Royal Dutch Geographical Society.

Terug naar boven Last modified: 10 June 1998