A golden opportunity from the golden age of cartography.
Published at 2021-02-15
Recently discovered in a private Moravian library collection, Auction House Zezula is
delighted to offer for sale an early edition of Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - the heralded work
of the 16 th century, widely considered as the first true modern atlas.
Compiled by Abraham Ortelius (1527 – 1598), the celebrated Brabantian cartographer,
geographer and cosmographer, he was widely recognised as a founder of the Netherlandish
school of cartography and one of history’s most influential members of this field. The
publication of this work is considered to mark the inception of the golden age of the school.
This seminal work was originally printed on the 20 th May 1570 in Antwerp and consisted of a
total of 53 map plates, presented alongside supporting descriptive text, united for the first
time in concise form, in a single volume or book – hugely significant as this was the first time
in European history that the collective knowledge and understanding of the world was
brought together into a single tome.
Consider, if you will, how scholars and intellectuals of the day were suddenly able to hold all
that consisted of god’s creation within their hands at once, for the first time…this must
indeed have very humbling moment; a testament to the advances and technical prowess
which marks this period of history as a pinnacle of human discovery and achievement.
The popularity of the work is reflected in its publication in not only Latin, but its expansion
to publication in Dutch, German and French, all before the death of Ortelius in 1598. At a
time when man was determined more than ever for understanding and knowledge of the
world around him, balancing this with faith in the divine, works such as this were of
paramount importance to the educated classes as they contemplated what lied beneath the
stars, and beyond them.
The atlas is not considered to have contained majoritively maps drawn by Ortelius himself,
but rather served as a curated collection of maps completed by the hands of other
contemporary masters. Ortelius references many of the contributing parties, a total of 33
cartographers were mentioned in the initial editions together with another 87
cartographers of the 16 th century. The list of names grew in later Latin editions, reaching a
total of 183 in 1601.
Born on the 14 th April in the city of Antwerp, Ortelius began his life in a tumultuous period of
religious discord in Europe. Originally from Augsburg (in modern-day Bavaria) his family
were suspected of Protestantism. Following the death of his father, Ortelius’s uncle, Jacobus
van Meteren (financier and printer of early English versions of the Bible) returned from
religious exile in England to care for his nephew. Ortelius began map engraving in 1547 and
entered the Antwerp Guild of Saint Luke, practising the art of illuminating maps. He was
later influenced by Gerardus Mercator to pursue the calling of a scientific geographer. He is
known to have travelled throughout his life, throughout Europe and the British Isles, which
undoubtedly further influenced his work.
This particular volume was discovered in a private Moravian collection, in which it seems to have patiently waited for several decades. The owner was well aware of its excellent value, yet at the moment when its starting price was determined after a detailed examination of individual maps and the inclusion of the work, he could not completely hide his enthusiasm. He deserves even more admiration, because he did not back down from his decision to donate the entire proceeds of the sale to a specific charity project.
This piece is offered in the Brno-based sale room and is currently online in a timed sale,
ending at 7 pm (GMT) on the 28 th February, 2021. The piece carries a starting price of
750,000czk (€ 28,846) + 20% buyers premium.
Enquiries to include condition reports, viewing, sale registration and transport are
welcomed. Please contact Antonín Zezula, via: firstname.lastname@example.org or by gsm: +420 773088711
Last updated: 2021-02-17 10:46:32