Abraham Ortelius, Theatrum Orbis Terrarum

In St John’s College Library’s Special Collections there are four copies of Ortelius’s world atlases. These were the first attempts at mapping the known world in its entirety which demonstrate a balance between striving for accurate cartography and presenting the wondrous elements of the distant world.

Abraham Ortelius (1527-1598)

From Antwerp, Brussels, Ortelius was part of the world-renowned Dutch-Flemish school of cartographers. Over his lifetime he worked as an engraver, geographer, cartographer and book trader but he is most well known as the creator of the first world atlas – the first edition of which was published in 1570. Interestingly, Ortelius may also be the first person in history to have formally presented the basic theory of continental drift in his discussion of the ‘matching’ coastlines of Africa, Europe, and South America. It is fitting that his interests covered not only the revolutions in the scientific geography of which he was a primary innovator but also historical geography: his early works include detailed maps of ancient Egypt and the Roman Empire.

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 Abraham Ortelius, 1579, Wikimedia Commons

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