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1572 Ortelius Map of the Arctic (Scandinavia, Iceland, Greenland)

Septentrionalum Regionum Desrip. - Main View

1572 Ortelius Map of the Arctic (Scandinavia, Iceland, Greenland)


One of the earliest maps to show Mercator's speculative Arctic islands, the apocryphal Friesland, and Zeno's fraudlent version of Labrador, Estotiland.


Septentrionalum Regionum Desrip.
  1572 (undated)     14.5 x 20 in (36.83 x 50.8 cm)     1 : 10000000


One of Abraham Ortelius' most interesting maps, this is his 1572 map of the Arctic, here in its rare second state. The map covers the northern regions from the English Channel to the just south of the North Pole and from America to Russia, including England, Scandinavia, Finland, Denmark, Iceland, and Greenland, as well as parts of America (Estotiland), the apocryphal island of Friesland, and Mercator's speculative Arctic islands.

Ortelius's Sources

Cartographically Ortelius drew from a number of interesting sources including Olaus Magnus's 1539 map of Scandinavia (Carta marina et Descriptio Septentrionalium Terrarium) for Scandinavia and Iceland; Nicolo Zeno's arctic map 1561 ( Septentrionalium Partium Nova Tabula) for Estotiland, Iceland, Greenland, Icaria, and Friesland; Anthony Jenkinson's 1562 map of Russia to fill in the north coast of Russia, and Gerard Mercator's world maps of 1564 and 1569 for the high Arctic.

Estotiland or Labrador?

This is one of the few maps to depict Estotiland and Droegeo, both drawn from the narrative of the Zeno brothers, supposedly written in the 14th century, before Columbus, but actually published by the Venetian merchant and statesman Nicolo Zeno in 1561. Most subsequent cartographers associated Estotiland with Labrador based upon Zeno's description,
… the fishing vessel 'Frise' was blown westward by a storm, and arrived at a land named 'Estotiland,' whose inhabitants traded with 'Engroenelandt.' This country, 'Estotiland,' was very fertile, and had mountains inland. The king of this country possessed books written in Latin, which he did not understand. The language that he spoke and his subjects shared no similarity to that of the Vikings. The king of Estotiland, seeing that his guests sailed safely with the aid of an instrument (the compass), persuaded them to make a maritime expedition to another land to the south called 'Drogeo.'
While Zeno's cartography was influential in the 16th and 17th centuries, modern scholarships suggests that Nicolo's work was mostly a fictional Venetian attempt to co-opt the achievements of the Genoese navigator, Christopher Columbus.

Friesland or Iceland

Drawing from both the Olaus Magnus and Zeno, Ortelius here includes both Iceland and Friesland. Frisland probably first appeared on the 1561 Zeno map, but was copied by numerous subsequent cartographers including, as here, Ortelius. There is debate about the origins of Friesland, with some speculating that it a mismapping of the southern part of Greenland and other suggesting it is a double mapping of Iceland. Frisland continued to appear in many forms on maps until the 18th century, when it merged with speculations that Greenland was actually two islands separated by an undiscovered channel.

Mercator's Arctic Islands

This is one of the earliest maps to illustrate Gerard Mercator's speculative Arctic Islands. When Mercator published his great wall map introducing the famous Mercator Projection in 1659, he recognized the essential problem with his map was that it massively distorted the polar regions. To rectify this, he included a polar projection as in inset on the map. It was this small projection, later refined in his 1595 Arctic map, that introduced Mercator's idea of four arctic islands surrounding an open Arctic sea, at the center of which was a great whirlpool. Two of those islands are visible here, one unnamed, and the other just north of Norway, labeled Pigmei hic habitant, for Mercator's assertion that it was the home of a race of female pygmies. The channel between the islands, possibly Mercator's interpretation of Davis Strait, was described as having violent currents. Variants on Mercator's arctic islands continued to appear in various forms well into the 17th century, until the discoveries of Spitzbergen and other Arctic islands began to disprove the speculation. The islands disappeared entirely in Hondius's 1636 Arctic map Poli Arctici et Circumiacentium Terrarum Descriptio Novissima.

This map was drawn by Abraham Ortelius and engraved by Franz Hogenberg. It wa issued in 1572 with the first French edition of the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum. The present example is Burden's first state, with no place names on the polar island north of Scandinavia, and Van den Broecke's second state, identifiable because of the triangle added at the end of the title, as well as for the lack of significant hachuring in the English Channel, which was added in Van den Broecke's 3rd state.


Abraham Ortelius (1527 - 1598) was one of the most important figures in the history of cartography and is most famously credited with the compilation of the seminal 1570 atlas Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, generally considered to be the world's first modern atlas. Ortelius was born in Antwerp and began his cartographic career in 1547 as a typesetter for the Antwerp Guild of St. Luke. In this role Ortelius traveled extensively through Europe where he came into contact with Mercator, under whose influence, he marketed himself as a "scientific geographer". In this course of his long career he published numerous important maps as well as issued several updated editions of his cardinal work, the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum. Late in his career Ortelius was appointed Royal Cartographer to King Phillip II of Spain. On his death in July fourth, 1598, Ortelius' body was buried in St Michael's Præmonstratensian Abbey , Antwerp, where his tombstone reads, Quietis cultor sine lite, uxore, prole. Learn More...

Franz Hogenberg (1535 - 1590), often called 'Master Franz,' was a Flemish engraver active in the late 16th century. Hogenberg was born in Mechelen, the son of Nicolas Hogenberg, where he trained under the cartographer H. Terbruggen. He later relocated to Antwerp where he achieved success as an engraver, working with Abraham Ortelius, Hieronymus Cock, and others. In 1568, his name appeared on the list of those banned from the Netherlands by the Duke of Alva, forcing his family to flee to London. There he engraved for Christopher Saxon's Atlas of England and Wales. By 1570 he emigrated to Germany settling in Cologne. In Cologne he married his second wife, Agnes Lomar, with whom he had six children. In 1579 the couple were briefly imprisoned for holding illicit secret religious meetings, but were released in short order. Along with German cleric George Braun (1541 – March 10, 1622), Hogenberg issued the highly influential city atlas Civitates Orbis Terrarum. The six volume work, with some 546 views, was published between 1572 and 1617 and intended a companion to Abraham Ortelius' Thatrum Orbis Terrarum - thus certain obvious stylistic similarities. In compiling the Civitates Hogenberg took on the role of engraver while most of the editing was left to Georg Braun. Hogenberg died in Cologne, Germany, before the Civitates was completed. After his death, Hogenberg's work was continued by his son, Abraham Hogenberg, who, under the direction of Agnes, his mother, took over his father's enterprise at just 20. Learn More...


Ortelius, A., Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, (Amsterdam: Ortelius), French Edition, 1572.    


Very good. Minor certerfold reinfocement. Original platemark. French text on verso.


Ort 160.2 (Koeman/Meurer: 45, Karrow: 1/65, vdKrogtAN: 1200:31). Spies, M. Humanist Conceptions of the Far North in the Works of Mercator and Ortelius, p. 303-318. Burden, P., The Mapping of North America, #40. Germundson, Nils G., 'Die Nordeuropakarte des Abraham Ortelius Septentrionalium Regionum Descriptio', Cartographica Helvetia, 27: 37-46.