By: Abraham Ortelius
Date: 1592 (published) Antwerp
Dimensions: 14 x 18.5 inches (35.5 x 47 cm)
A superb example of Ortelius's map of Southeast Asia and the Spice Island, which was published in the first complete modern atlas of the world, Theatrum Orbis Terrarum. The map is based upon Mercator's world map of 1569, presents Southeast Asia, the East Indies, Japan, and a portion of North America with the mythical city of Quivira.
Examining Ortelius's Map of the Spice Islands
The map centers on the Spice Islands, while providing interesting cartography of the Indian subcontinent and China. Japan is shown in a very primitive state of cartographic understanding as it appears a one massive island with archipelagos north and south consisting of theoretically hundreds of smaller islands. The spice islands are ripe with place names, save for some coastlines that were not utilized by the Dutch, namely that of Java. "BEACH, pars continentis Australis," appears just above the bottom margin and text within "Nova Guinea," notes that it is uncertain whether New Guinea is its own island or part of Australia.
Decorative embellishment within the map cannot be ignored. Ortelius was not only a visionary businessman, but a great designer of maps that would spark imagination and wonder of the far reaches of the world among his customers. In the pacific we find two sea monsters (or whales) breaching near a tall ship at full sail. Just below, a pair of mermaids taken from Diego Gutierrez's map of America admire one another. A strap work title cartouche fills the southern Indian Ocean and a coat of arms adorns the top left corner of the map where cartographic detail of Persia is omitted.
A Brief History of the Spice Trade in the East Indies
The spice trade had been of great importance, ever since about 1500 BCE when ancient Indonesian sailors established routes from Southeast Asia to Sri Lanka and India, to which their goods would then be transported by land towards the Mediterranean and the Greco-Roman world via the incense route and the Roman–India routes by Indian and Persian traders. Additional sea routes would be established over the centuries, including that of the Ethiopian and Aksumite Empires that utilized the Red Sea, the Portuguese who first pioneered a rout around the southern point of Africa, the Dutch who would later make that route more efficient by establishing a port of trade and transfer in Cape Town, and the Spanish who ran galleons across the Pacific, their territories in Latin America, and then across the Atlantic.
By the late 16th century, when this map was created, the Dutch were putting maximum effort in establishing their trade network, which for a would make the Netherlands the wealthiest nation in the world. This influx of wealth brought great minds from around the known world, making cities like Amsterdam and Antwerp hubs for knowledge, that would support a growing map trade to which Ortelius was a leading figure. A banner at lower right states in Latin "The Molucca Islands are celebrated across the terrestrial globe for their copious spices." It then lists five islands with the greatest amount of spices.
Abraham Ortelius; the Father of Modern Cartography
The publication of Theatrum Orbis Terrarum of 'Theatre of the World,' marked an epoch in the history of cartography, for it is the first uniform and systematic collection of maps of the entire known world, based on contemporary knowledge since the days of Claudius Ptolemy (c. 100 – c. 170 AD). The 16th century brought about a dramatic increase in interest in maps and charts, and Ortelius, as a businessman with a passion for history and cartography, was at the forefront in meeting this demand. A true visionary, Ortelius became the first to publish what is referred to as a "modern atlas."
Through his collecting and his antiques business, Ortelius was able to research contemporary maps, becoming one of the greatest experts of his day. He based his work on the best maps available, drawing them himself with the plates done by Franz Hogenberg. Unlike other atlas makers, Ortelius cited the authors of the original maps from which he compiled his work. In this case, the map was based on Mercator's world map of 1569.
Thus, it is not only for his unprecedented achievement in issuing the first modern atlas, but also for his thoughtful and rigorous methodology, that Ortelius belongs amongst the first rank of cartographers. He is very aptly regarded as the father of modern cartography.
Latin text on the verso with page number 121.
Condition: This map is in A condition with beautiful hand coloring over a sharp impression on clean paper with full margins on all sides. A pair of worm holes appear on either side within the margin. A near vertical printer's crease appears in the right portion of the map. There are no tears, fold separations, or evidence of restoration on the front or back of the map. An overall very pleasing example.
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