Theatrum orbis terrarum. [With:] Parergon [And:] Nomenclator Ptolemaicus.

Antwerp: Officina Plantiniana, 1591-92.

Fourth Latin edition of the first modern world atlas, and a copy hand-coloured and heightened in gold. First published in 1570, the Theatrum is the first atlas to contain maps printed in a uniform style and format and to display a catalogue of the authors whose source Ortelius used in the drawing of the maps. Ortelius’s atlas “set a standard by which subsequent collections would be judged and compared” (Short). Even though it was the most expensive work published at the time, it proved an instant success with four versions of the first edition being printed in 1570 alone. Several editions were printed at the Officina Plantiniana at the end of the 16th century and from 1585 Ortelius began to include historical maps in a section called Paregon. The maps and plates in the Parergon may be considered “the most outstanding engravings depicting the wide-spread interest in classical geography in the 16th century” (Van der Krogt). The present 1592 edition, the fourth Latin edition, contains 108 maps as well as the 26 maps and views of the Parergon, as well as an index called Nomenclator Ptolemaicus that lists all the names mentioned in Ptolemy’s Geographia. New to this edition are the maps of Flanders and Brabant. “This is the first edition of the Theatrum with a clear division into three parts: (1) the Atlas itself, (2) the Parergon, and (3) the Nomenclator. The Parergon had for the first time its own title page. For this title page Plantin made use of the woodblock he had used for the title page of Genesis in the Biblia Regia, printed in 1569-72. Printing started in July 1590, but because of a shortage of paper the printing lasted longer than expected. The Nomenclator was printed between February and May 1591 (the title page was dated 1591). The rest of the Theatrumwas printed in the summer of 1591. The first copies were delivered on 6 August 1591. The colophon however has the date 1592. The Plantin Press printed 525 copies of this edition. After this edition, only the fifth Additamentum would further enlarge the Theatrum” (Koeman). The present copy, which has all the maps in contemporary hand-colouring, has an early Spanish provenance, with marginal comments in Spanish and Latin. The text on the map of Valencia has been censored with a patch, erasing the text on the practice of Islam in Spain; this is the final edition of the text in which this passage appeared. The title of the atlas, the ‘Theatre of the Earth,’ references the idea of the theatre of nature, in which God’s laws play out for a human audience. It is “a title that announces encyclopedic intentions of surveying all of nature to provide complete and ordered coverage” (Short), providing a mirror of nature for the service of humanity. This idea achieved such broad cultural penetration that Shakespeare’s 1599 play As You Like It would declare that “All the world's a stage.” Only three other complete copies with contemporary hand-colouring listed on RBH since 1984.

Provenance: Ruperto de Zafra (inscription on title page and marginalia in Spanish and Latin); Christie’s New York, 15 October 2021, lot 68, $237,500.

“With the exception of his friend [Gerardus] Mercator, Ortelius (1527-98) was the principal cartographer of the sixteenth century. He was born to a Catholic family whose origins were in Augsburg. At the age of twenty he was admitted as an illuminator of maps into the guild of St. Luke in his native town. Soon he was able to earn his living by buying, coloring, and selling maps produced by map makers in various countries. Ortelius traveled widely in his profession; he went regularly to the Frankfurt Fair and visited Italy several times before 1558. In the period 1559-1560 he traveled through Lorraine and Poitou in the company of Mercator, who encouraged him to become a cartographer and to draw his own maps. The first product of this new activity was an eight-sheet map of the world published in 1564. In 1565 he published a map of Egypt (two sheets), in 1567 a map of Asia (two sheets), and in 1570 a map of Spain (six sheets).

“The growing demand for maps of distant countries, caused by the rapidly expanding colonization and the development of commerce, had already led to the production of large collections of maps of various size and provenance, for instance, Lafreri’s atlas published ca. 1553. At the suggestion of the Dutch merchant and map collector Hooftman, and of his friend Radermacher, Ortelius undertook the publication of a comprehensive atlas of the world. It appeared in May 1570 in the form of a single volume, in folio, entitled Theatrum orbis terrarum, published by Egidius Coppens Diesth and printed by Plantin in Antwerp. It contained fifty-three sheets with a total of seventy copperplate maps, most of them engraved by Frans Hoogenberg, and thirty-five leaves of text …

“The Theatrum won for Ortelius the title of geographer to King Phillip II of Spain. It also secured for him a substantial income, enabling him to continue his travels to collect new material. In 1577 he visited England and Ireland, making the personal acquaintance of John Dee, Camden, Hakluyt, and other British geographers … During the later part of his life, Ortelius spent much time on classical studies … In 1584 he published Nomenclator Ptolemaicus, which dealt with place names in Ptolemy’s geography, and Parergon, a collection of maps illustrating ancient history, printed by Plantin. The Nomenclator and the Parergon were incorporated into several of the later editions of the Theatrum” (DSB).

When the Theatrum appeared, European map production was shifting from Italy to Antwerp, Ortelius's home town and a center of entrepreneurial activity in Europe. ‘Mapbooks’ had appeared in several formats well before Ortelius first started preparing the Theatrum project. Portuguese discoveries of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries were documented by manuscript charts bound together in volume format. Some wall-maps were also bound. In the 1560s, many so-called ‘I.A.T.O.’ (Italian atlas assembled to order) or ‘Lafreri’ volumes had been printed, flooding the market but not necessarily unifying maps and text into a single context or printing format. Rather than appearing as a single edition, Italian atlases were assembled to suit the needs of the individual customer. Ortelius departed from the Italian model by placing far more emphasis on the explanatory quality of the text while giving nearly equal weight to all elements of the atlas. Cut to uniform size and printed as a single-sized compilation of maps, historical narratives, and source references, the Theatrum was from the outset an encyclopedic description of the world like none before it.

“Encyclopedic also was Ortelius’s method of paying homage to existing sources. The Theatrum's maps were a careful selection of the best available cartography. They were logically organized to represent continents, groups of regions, and nation-states, with the text (one or both halfsheets on the backs of the maps) providing relevant information and further references.

“The first edition’s bibliography or ‘Catalogus Auctorum’ – a separate section in the atlas – lists not only all thirty-three cartographers whose maps Ortelius consulted, but all eighty-seven geographers known to him. The ‘Catalogus’ was thus the first critical attempt to provide readers with a historical context for published maps. In an era when naming references was the exception rather than the rule, Ortelius was one of the best bibliographers of early cartography.

“Earlier mapbooks (after ca. 1400) had been based on the work of Claudius Ptolemy, whose Geographia recorded classical Greek geographic knowledge in the second century A.D. and was the chief source for cartographic publications in the early Renaissance era. Ortelius’s Theatrum definitively freed cartography from the influence of Ptolemy although convention still demanded that the new form of map presentation and illustration pay homage to the classical writers.

“While not a scientific innovator, Ortelius is best remembered for his ability to gather an immense body of existing geographic knowledge and to publish it in a consistent and high-quality cartographic format: the atlas. As a synthesis of many existing maps, the Theatrum's world map, for example, was influenced by the cartography of Jacobo Gastaldi (world map, 1561), Diego Gutierrez (portolan map of the Atlantic, 1562), and, not least, by Gerardus Mercator's 1569 world map. The map of Europa found its inspiration in the work of Mercator (wall map, 1554), Olaus Magnus (Scandinavia map, 1539), and Gastaldi (first map of Asia, 1559, and Africa map of 1664). The Asia map was based upon Ortelius's own wall map of 1567, which was in turn made after Gastaldi's 1559 Asia map. Compiling, refining, and reducing maps and multiple maps of other geographers to folio pages measuring approximately 57.6 by 42.6 cm was the essence of Ortelius's atlas-making labours.

“The single most crucial source for much of Ortelius’s mapping was the influential 1569 world map of Gerardus Mercator (1512-1594). At least eight plates in the Theatrum were directly derived from this map. Mercator, Ortelius's contemporary, who coined the word ‘atlas’ for a book of maps, could boast maps and atlases of superior accuracy and comparable influence. The original idea of fitting maps to size and binding them in a smaller format may also have been his. Throughout successive editions of the Theatrum, Ortelius often modified and even replaced maps based on advice, findings, and encouragements from Mercator. It has been suggested that Mercator deliberately delayed the publication of his own atlas in order to accommodate Ortelius, but no clear evidence substantiates the claim. Much more an original empirical scientist than Ortelius was, Mercator drew many of his own maps and redrew them for use in his 1585 Atlas. By reducing the texts and further increasing the integration of maps, Mercator gradually refined Ortelius's atlas concept. In the Theatrum, Ortelius did not forget to pay special homage to Mercator, whom he had befriended as a young man in the early 1550s.

“In evaluating the importance of the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, one must also consider its circumstances of publication and the sheer length of its publication history. Ortelius was neither wealthy nor without competition in his field of scholarly activity. Even as he was preparing the first edition of his atlas, contemporaries in Antwerp, such as Hieronymus Cock (c. 1507-1570), Gerard de Jode (c. 1508-1591), and Gerardus Mercator, were formidable rivals. In the late 1560s De Jode began compiling his competing world atlas, Speculum Orbis Terrarum (whose publication was considerably delayed and did not occur until 1578). The two men had collaborated on an earlier world map (1564) but had then become estranged. Meanwhile the Cologne humanist Georg Braun (1541-1622) – an acquaintance of Ortelius – was planning the publication of his city atlas Civitates Orbis Terrarum, which was first published in Cologne in 1572.

“In this competitive atmosphere, the Theatrum, while representing Ortelius’s deep understanding of geography, came into being as a commercial venture and partnership. While undertaking to pay for its early printing himself, Ortelius involved numerous business and scholarly connections-engravers, printers, and merchants-he had met as an illuminator. Crucial to the eventual success of Theatrum was his connection with the Antwerp printing house of Christoph Plantin (or Christoffel Plantijn, c. 1520-1589), which assumed responsibility for printing the atlas in 1579. Commercial success nevertheless appears to have come as a surprise. An emerging, well-to-do middle class in the Netherlands was taking an active interest in education and scientific matters and the Theatrum's format, like that of earlier atlases, was far less cumbersome to use than sets of loose sheets. The atlas’s popularity, and the many reactions and encouragements he received to continue printing his ‘manual,’ may in part explain why Ortelius immediately began revising errata, verifying and adding source references, and changing less conspicuous textual elements.

“All editions of the Theatrum have a common structure. The single-volume atlas opens with an allegorical title page depicting the five continents then known as native goddesses. There follows a dedication to Philip II, King of Spain and the Netherlands; a poem by Adolphus Mekerchus (Adolf van Meetkercke), on the title page; a portrait of Ortelius by Philip Galle (in editions of 1579 and later); an introduction by Ortelius himself; a letter of recommendation by Mercator; the list of sources (‘Catalogus Auctorum’); an index of regions and place-names (‘Index Tabularum’); the atlas proper, consisting of maps with accompanying text on the verso; a register of place-names in antiquity (‘Nomenclator’); a treatise (‘De Mona Druidum’, by Humfred Lhuyd); and finally the privilege and a colophon.

“After Theatrum Orbis Terrarum'sinitial release, Ortelius regularly revised and expanded the atlas, reissuing it in various formats until his death in 1598. From its original seventy maps and eighty-seven bibliographic references in the first edition (1570), the atlas grew through its thirty-one editions to encompass 183 references and 167 maps in 1612. Only after 1610 did the atlas’s accuracy begin to be called into question by more recent findings, such as those found in the works of the Blaeu family and Jodocus Hondius. Throughout its publication history, however, the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum was the undisputed leader in the field of European atlas-making” (

Koeman III, Ort 27B; Van der Krogt 31. See also John Rennie Short, Making Space: Revisioning the World, 1475-1600 (2004).

Three parts in one volume, folio (440 x 292 mm). Hand-coloured engraved title page heightened in gold, hand-colored portrait of Ortelius, 108 hand-colored double-page maps, hand-coloured woodcut title of Parergon, 26 hand-coloured double-page maps and views, woodcut initials and tailpieces throughout with some hand-coloured (old patch to upper outer corner of first title with a few repaired tears strengthened at inner margin, a few maps with splits at fold, maps 71 and 72 with larger tear and missing small slice of lower edge of map, occasional offsetting or pigment browning to some engravings, some light stains and finger-soiling around edges, some worming in the gutter at the end). Old vellum over pasteboard, title in ink on spine (corners showing, dust-soiled, foot of spine fraying).

Item #6044

Price: $325,000.00