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Abraham Ortelius:  Americae Sive Novi Orbis Nova Descriptio

Maps of the Western Hemisphere

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Title: Americae Sive Novi Orbis Nova Descriptio

Map Maker: Abraham Ortelius

Place / Date: Antwerp / 1603

Coloring: Hand Colored

Size: 19 x 14 inches

Condition: VG+

Price: $5,600.00

Inventory ID: 49646


A highly desirable example of Ortelius's map of the Americas, present here in an example fit for a connoisseur.

Engraved double-page map of the Americas by Abraham Ortelius, offered here in full original hand-color. This example is from the 1603 Latin edition of Theatrum Orbis Terrarum.


Ortelius's maps of the Americas were some of the most influential maps of the 16th and early 17th centuries.  The success of Ortelius' Theatrum meant that his map of America was one of the most widely circulated maps of America, of the period, and would have therefore had a profound impact on the European vision of America in the 16th century.   Ortelius's ability to locate and draw upon Spanish and Portuguese sources is apparent throughout the map, and is quite remarkable, given the manner in which those nations guarded their cartographic information.

The first appearance of the Chesapeake Bay on a map.

The inclusion of a large inlet in the east seaboard of North America, labeled with the Indian name "Wingandekoa", reflects the earliest unsuccessful attempts by the English to colonize the Outer Banks of present-day North Carolina.

The first appearance of the Solomon Islands on a map.

While the islands were first discovered by Álvaro de Mendaña de Neira in 1568, they did not appear on a printed map until Ortelius's third plate Americas.

New toponyms have been added in California.

Ortelius adds the name "California".  He also adds "Cab. Mendocino", which was discovered by Juan Rodriquez Cabrillo in 1542. "R. de los estrechos" is added.

Cartographic Sources

The primary source for the map is Gerard Mercator's 1569 wall map of the world.  According to Brandmair, Ortelius's revisions for the third plate were probably spurred on by the publication of Giovanni Mazza's map of the Americas, published in Venice by Rascicotti in 1583.


Ortelius's map of the Americas first appeared in the 1570 edition of Ortelius' Theatrum Orbis Terrarum. It went through three major revisions, as noted in Van Den Broecke. This is Ortelius's third plate, most easily recognized by the lack of a large westward bulge in the west coast of South America. There are two recorded states of the third plate of Ortelius's map of the Americas. This is an example of the first state.

State 1. Standard issue, present in editions of the Theatrum from 1587 to 1612. (The second plate shows up in a few examples of the 1587 Theatrum.)

State 2. Present only in post-1612 atlases, probably revised circa 1628. This state adds Tierra del Fuego and Fretum le Maire, removes the date. Extremely rare; only seven examples traced by Burden.

Abraham Ortelius

Abraham Ortelius (1527-1598) was, along with Gerard Mercator, the most important cartographer of the 16th century.

He was born in Antwerp to a family with connections in printing and publishing. Ortelius's uncle, Sir Jacobus van Meteren, took over the role of raising Ortelius after the latter's father had died.

In 1545 at the age of 18, Ortelius began his career as a map colorist. His sister Anna was also an accomplished colorist. He entered the Guild of St. Luke as a colorist two years later, and in 1547, he was registered as a colorist with the publisher Plantin.

In 1564, Ortelius published his first map, a large wall map of the world titled "Typus Orbis Terrarum". Today the map is known in only one example. Between 1564 and 1570, Ortelius made at least six single and multi-sheet maps of his own.

1570 was the year Ortelius first published the book that would become his defining masterwork: the first true modern atlas of the world, Theatrum Orbis Terrarum.

In 1575, with the recommendation of Arias Montanus, Ortelius was appointed geographer to the King of Spain, Philip II.

Theatrum Orbis Terrarum

The present map comes from Abraham Ortelius's Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (or "Theater of the World"), which is widely considered to be the first true modern atlas.  The Theatrum was the best available summary of 16th-century cartographic knowledge, covering much of the exploration of the world in the century following the discovery of America.

The atlas was first published in 1570 in Antwerp, and it was published consistently until 1612. Recent research has unearthed examples of the atlas with maps dated to 1640.

Ortelius was the artist of all of the maps; he drew them by hand, and those drawings were interpreted into prints by his engravers Frans Hogenberg, Ambrosius Arsenius, and Ferdinand Arsenius.

The broad appeal of the Theatrum saw demand from many consumers who preferred to read the atlas in their local language. Thus, in addition to Latin, the book was published with text in Dutch, French, German, Italian, Spanish, and English.

After Ortelius's death in 1598, the copper plates for his atlas passed to his heirs. They, in turn, sold the collection to Jan Baptist Vrients (1522-1612) in 1601.  Vrients added new maps and published the atlas until his death in 1612.  Vrients's widow then sold the plates to the Moretus brothers, who were the successors of Christoffel Plantin.

Condition Description: Beautiful original hand-color in full. Light dampstain along bottom and left edge, only barely visible on verso, and effectively invisible on recto. A highly desirable, connoisseur's example of the map.

References: Van Den Broecke 11.1 (1603L); Burden 64; Schwartz & Ehrenberg 69; Koeman/Meurer 114; Karrow 1/7a; van der Krogt AN 9000:31C.

Related Categories:
Maps of America
Maps of America
Maps of North America
Maps of South America
Maps of the Western Hemisphere