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1570 Ortelius Map of the North Atlantic / Arctic: Scandinavia, Britain, Greenland

Septentrionalium Regionum Desrip. - Main View

1570 Ortelius Map of the North Atlantic / Arctic: Scandinavia, Britain, Greenland


The Northern Limits of Geographical Knowledge in the Age of Discovery


Septentrionalium Regionum Desrip.
  1570 (undated)     14.5 x 20 in (36.83 x 50.8 cm)     1 : 10000000


One of Abraham Ortelius' most interesting maps, this is his 1570 map of Scandinavia and the Arctic. During the Age of Discovery, these north parts of the world represented regions as remote and unfamiliar as the coasts of America, Africa, and Asia. 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 Frisland, and Mercator's speculative Arctic islands.
Ortelius's Sources
Part of Ortelius' genius was his aptitude as a compiler and editor, synthesizing the best sources that he could locate. For this map, these included the 1539 Olaus Magnus Carta marina et Descriptio Septentrionalium Terrarium for Scandinavia and Iceland; Nicolo Zeno's 1561 Septentrionalium Partium Nova Tabula for Estotiland, Iceland, Greenland, Icaria, and Frisland; Anthony Jenkinson's 1562 map of Russia, and Gerard Mercator's world maps of 1564 and 1569 for the high Arctic.
Zeno's Spurious yet Tenacious Geography
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 in 1558 as a deliberate fraud by the Venetian merchant and statesman Nicolo Zeno. 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.'
Also prominent are Zeno's imaginary islands of Icaria and Frisland. As with Estotiland, Zeno credited his 14th century predecessors with the discovery of these mysterious islands which appeared first on his own 1561 map, and which were eagerly copied by later mapmakers thirsty for geographical data on this remote part of the world. Despite Zeno's work being a fraudulent Venetian attempt to co-opt the achievements of the Genoese Christopher Columbus, it remained influential in the 16th and 17th centuries absent better cartographic reconnaissance of the North Atlantic. Not only Ortelius, but his competitor De Jode, and the Dutch mapmakers of the early 17th century embraced the Zeno geography.
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 1569, 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 factual Arctic islands began to intrude upon the speculation. The islands disappeared entirely in Hondius's 1636 Arctic map Poli Arctici et Circumiacentium Terrarum Descriptio Novissima.
Publication History and Census
This map was drawn by Abraham Ortelius and engraved by Franz Hogenberg for inclusion in the first modern atlas, Ortelius' Theatrum Orbis Terrarum. It appeared in all editions of that work, beginning in 1570. Based on the typography of the verso text, this example corresponds to the map appearing in the 1579 Latin edition of the Theatrum. This is the third state of the map according to van de Broecke. The map in its many editions is well represented in institutional collections; separate examples of this 1579 edition is catalogued only in the Univerity of Bern and the Biblioteca Nacional de Espana.


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.     Abraham Ortelius' magnum opus, Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, was the world's first regularly produced atlas, which 'set the standards for later atlases . . . It was the first undertaking of its kind to reduce the best available maps to an uniform format.' (Koeman) A modestly-sized work of fifty-three maps in its first edition of May 1570, it was an immediate success: there were three further editions that year, and the work remained in print for a total of 32 editions, the last of which was 1641, well after its author's 1598 death. Ortelius added to his atlas constantly, and by 1595 the Theatrum contained 147 maps. Ortelius is renowned generally as an editor, and indeed much of the Theatrum is compiled from a variety of sources: in such cases, Ortelius was scrupulous in naming his sources. But Ortelius was also a mapmaker in his own right: many of his maps are a distillation of various sources into his own work, and there were many maps - particularly in his atlas of Biblical and ancient history Parergon - which were entirely Ortelius' work. In his role as an editor, Ortelius followed in the footsteps of Munster, whose Cosmographia was, until Ortelius, the best window on the world for the curious European reader. In terms of the artistry of his maps, Ortelius oversaw the first great flourishing of copperplate engraving in the service of cartography to occur in Northern Europe. Ortelius' work provided the model for the atlases of Mercator, Hondius, Blaeu and all their progeny in the 17th century - many of whom were to produce faithful editions of Ortelius' maps in their own productions.


Excellent. Mended wormhole in margin away from printed image. Generous margins. Original color, refreshed.


OCLC 956281968. Rumsey 10000.099. Van den Broecke, M. Ortelius Atlas Maps 160.3 Van der Krogt, P. C. J., Koeman's Atlantes Neerlandici, (3 Vols), 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.