ORTELIUS, Abraham (1527–1598). Theatro de la Tierra Universal. Antwerp: Chistopher Plantin, 1588

$ 425,000.00

Folio (16 4/8 x 11 4/8 inches). Elaborate engraved allegorical title-page, double-page world map "Typus Orbis Terrarum", undated and with the South American coastline retaining its destinctive bulge [Shirley 153, state 2] (small separation at foot of the centre-fold), 99 double-page maps of the world, and historiated initials, all with MAGNIFICENTLY RICH CONTEMPORARY HAND-COLOUR IN FULL (without A4, the portrait of Ortelius, the map of Spain a bit creased with one or two short marginal tears occasionally crossing the image, and strengthened at an early date along the verso of the left-hand edge and the centre-fold, short early repair to tear on verso of map of Crete), extra-illustrated with large folding prospectus for a map of the Kingdom of Portugal, to be printed in Salamanca, ca 1738-1753, tipped-in after the Contents, and a small folding engraved plate "Carta del Viage de los Israelites", 1747, at end. Beautiful full 17th-century Spanish mottled sheep, the spine in seven compartments, with six raised bands, tan morocco lettering-piece in the second, the others decorated with fine gilt tools of bunches of daisies interspersed with small cleft pomegranate of Aragon tools, French hand-coloured decorative endpapers captioned 'A Paris chez Les Associes No 119' (lower cover and extremities a bit scuffed).

Provenance: with the near contemporary ownership inscription at the head of the dedication leaf "Juan de Calder doscientos" and offset onto the verso of the title-page; profuse 18th-century annotations in a neat Spanish script, adding historical context and referencing important relevant texts throughout, with a Table of Contents "Tabla de las Mapas de Cite Libro", in the same hand, dated 14th August, 1757, tipped in after the printed Contents; with an autograph document signed by Ambrosio Gonzalez, dated 19th April 1858, conferring a military command, loosely inserted.


The first edition in Spanish, and the first of Ortelius's atlases to be entirely published, rather than printed, by Christopher Plantin. Subsequently published in 1602 by Vrients, with 117 maps, and in 1609-1612 with 128 maps.

"In contrast with previous editions, this edition was solely Plantin's project and consequently Plantin, not Ortelius, took the role of publisher. Ortelius' contribution was limited to printing the maps. Thus, once the texts had been printed, Ortelius' print atelier saw to the printing of the maps on the backs of the sheets and then returned them to Plantin. The publication of this Spanish atlas appears to have been very important for Plantin. Following his return to Antwerp in 1585, he did everything he could to convince the Spanish of his loyalty, despite his stay in the Calvinist, anti-Spanish town of Leiden. One means of attaining this goal was to dedicate a Spanish version of the atlas to the future king, Philip III. By the start of 1587, Plantin had begun to write to individuals who were close to the Spanish court in order to determine whether this gesture would be well received... Plantin did not dare to start to print the text before he was certain that his dedication to the crown prince would be accepted" (Dirk Imhof "The Production of Ortelius Atlases by Christopher Plantin", in Abraham Ortelius and the First Atlas: Essays Commemorating the Quadricentennial of his Death 1598-1998, page 88). That it was is proven by the fact that the atlas went into production, and between 1588 and 1590 255 copies were printed. the Plantin archives record a few copies of the atlas being sent to the Spanish court, with lavish colouring heightened with gold and silver, however the production values of the ordinarily published coloured copies were still very high. For example 'le capne Alberico paid 36 guilders for a coloured and bound copy in September 1588' (Imhof, page 89). The Spanish edition of the Theatrum was the last edition printed by Plantin, thereafter it was printed by his son-in-law and successor Jan Moretus. Throughout his publishing career and in spite of the ongoing conflict between the Dutch and Spanish, the Spanish market had been a constant one for Plantin, and he was very deferential to the Spanish court, during the 1570's "his employees also had to work at a frantic tempo in order to fill the orders placed by the Spanish court for thousands of liturgical works" (Imhof, page 81).

Ortelius and Plantin were lifelong friends, and eventually published five editions of Ortelius's Theatrum orbis terrarium and  four of his Addimenta (being a supplement to earlier editions for their owners) together. Their first recorded transaction occurred as early as January of 1558, when the young Ortelius, described in the Plantin archive as "paintre des cartes", bought a copy of Virgil from Plantin. Soon Ortelius was colouring maps for Plantin, and when Ortelius began producing his own atlases in 1570, Plantin bought them in large quantities for resale. "Between June 13 and December 31, 1570 Plantin sold no less than 159 copies of the Theatrum... From 1579 onwards, Plantin is the printer, but not the publisher of the Theatrum. Ortelius himself finances the printing" (Peter van der Krogt "The Theatrum Orbis Terrarum: The First Atlas?", in Abraham Ortelius and the First Atlas: Essays Commemorating the Quadricentennial of his Death 1598-1998, page 65). Although Plantin was the major distributor of the Theatrum, he was not the only one, and he had his own network of distributors, even an affiliated a bookshop in Paris "run by his son-in-law Aegidius Beys [who] was an important buyer of Plantin's productions. This Parisian bookshop also soon became the most important buyer of the Theatrum" (Ibid page 81). The bookshop closed in 1577 and the stock was sold to the dealer Michel Sonnius, who received the monopoly for the sale of Plantin publications in Paris. It is therefore probably not so surprising to find such distinctive Parisian endpapers in this example of the Theatro.

A hiatus occurred in the production of the the Theatrum when in 1575 Ortelius fled from Antwerp to England, via Paris (1577), Frankfurt (1578), Venice and Rome (1578) to escape the "Spanish Fury", the sacking of Antwerp by the Spanish in 1576. This in spite of the fact that in 1574 Ortelius retained the position of Royal Cosmographer to Phillip II and was given a fine gold necklace, worth 1000 ducats, as a sign of his office. "In the general uprising of the Netherlands in 1576, both Catholics and Calvanists joined forces. But the ensuing excesses committed by the Calvinist die-hards in the South, drove many Catholics back into the Spanish camp. Thus the 'reconquista' of the South began. In this South, Antwerp, since 1577 dominated by the Calvinist party, was the last stronghold to capitulate after a long siege in August 1585. The Eighty Years' war was to continue until 1648, but from 1585 the Netherlands were cut into two halves: the North dominated by the Calvinists, which became the independent Republic of the United Provinces, and the South, regained by the Spanish sovereigns, where Calvinism was virtually stamped out, no longer by violent means, but by way of propaganda and persuasion. Antwerp, the great Southern Calvinist bulwark in the years 1577 to 1585, became the staunchest pillar of the Southern Catholic Counter-Reformation" (Leon Voet "Abraham Ortelius and his World", in Abraham Ortelius and the First Atlas: Essays Commemorating the Quadricentennial of his Death 1598-1998, page 27). It was only in 1579 when Ortelius returned to Antwerp, that a new edition of the Theatrum was printed. For the first time Plantin was responsible for the printing of the accompanying texts. From this edition onwards, the Plantin Press would continue to see the printing of the texts for virtually all the editions of the atlas until Ortelius' own death in 1598. 


"Apparently, Spain presented cartographical problems in the second half of the sixteenth century. Mercator, with his scientific attitude, never found enough source material to incorporate maps of Spain into his Atlas. Thus there is nothing about Spain in Mercator's Atlas. Only in the edition of 1606, edited by the more commercially oriented Jodocus Hondius do we find Spain represented. Initially, Ortelius only had the general maps of Spain and Portugal. In the successive Addimenta only three sheets with five regional maps were added, viz. in the second Addimentatum a map of Sevilla, and in the third Addimentatum a sheet with three small maps (Cadiz, Basque country, and central Castilia), and a map of the kingdom of Valencia. Finally, in the Vrients editions, the maps of Catalonia and Galicia are added" (Peter van der Krogt "The Theatrum Orbis Terrarum: The First Atlas?", in  Abraham Ortelius and the First Atlas: Essays Commemorating the Quadricentennial of his Death 1598-1998, page 67). 

Ortelius's Theartro "presents us with the oldest images of the Spanish regions. In spite of the fact that some correspond to simple sketches and display quite some errors, they are drawn with the innocence of simplicity and their uncomplicated existence as such constitutes a spectacular advance. The call for more information launched by Ortelius, appealing to Spanish scholars to augment his supply, was a fruitful initiative, which resulted in a considerable number of new regional maps. The last editions printed show the regional maps of the united Iberian Peninsular. It is the best graphic reproduction of Spain available, and the only one until the maps of Tomas Lopez, two centuries later" (Agustin Hernando, "The Contribution of Ortelius' Theatrum to the Geographical Knowledge of Spain" in Abraham Ortelius and the First Atlas: Essays Commemorating the Quadricentennial of his Death 1598-1998, page 246).


Spain's Golden Age, Siglo de Oro, began in the late 1400s with the marriage of Catholic Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand, which united the kingdoms of Aragon and Castille. Under the Hapsburg Kings, the Spanish empire came to include the Spanish peninsula, Austria, parts of Germany and Italy, Belgium, Holland, the Americas, the Philippines, and parts of northern Africa. The 16th and 17th centuries were also a golden age in terms of politics, military might, wealth, and culture. The Spanish edition of Ortelius Theatrum, contains superb maps of all these countries and particularly of the Spanish colonies of New Spain, New Galicia, Cuba and Hispaniola, Peru, Florida, Huasteca, the Azores (recently acquired in 1583), Portugal (defeated in 1580), as well as a magnificent map of Spain, and regional maps of Andalusia, the kingdom of Valencia, Cadiz, and Guipúzcoa.

The map of the kingdom of England in this edition of the Theatro depicts an aggressive galleon in the Channel in the waters of Calais. It is as large as the Isle of Wight, and has recently fired at least four canon in the direction of the English coast. This is hardly a representation of Philip II's Armada which was actually amassing as the Thearto was being printed. When Elizabeth I came to the throne of England in 1558, her relationship with  Philip II and therefore of Spain was a happy one. "His intercession helped to save her life after Wycliffe's rebellion (1554). He facilitated her accession, supported her against the claims of Mary Stuart, and intervened powerfully in her favor to prevent French aid from being sent to Scotland. When England had emerged triumphant at the treaty of Edinburgh (1560), Elizabeth sent him a special mission of thanks, with the Catholic Lord Montague at its head, to whom she gave a dispensation from the laws of England in order that he might practice Catholicism during the embassy.

"The victory of Protestantism now being complete, greater coolness was shown. As time went on the Spanish ambassador was treated with disrespect, his house beset, visitors to his chapel imprisoned; Spanish ships were robbed with impunity in the Channel. In 1562, Hawkins forced his way by violence into the forbidden markets of the West Indies, his trade being chiefly in slaves, whom he had captured in West Africa. In 1564 and 1567 the same violent measures were repeated, but the last ended in disaster for him. Meanwhile the Protestant party in the Netherlands began to rebel in 1566, and was subsidized by England... Since July, 1580, Philip had begun to regard the English freebooters in a new light. He had then made good by the force of arms his claim to the crown of Portugal, by which he became lord over the rich and widely-stretching Portuguese colonies. If he did not soon bestir himself to defend them, they would be lost as well as robbed. He was, moreover, now the master of a considerable fleet. The danger from the Turk had been greatly diminished. The religious wars had sapped the powers of France. James of Scotland had broken the trammels with which Elizabeth had bound him during his boyhood, and he showed some desire to help his mother, Queen Mary, and she might persuade the English Catholics to support the army that should be sent to liberate her. But Philip arrived at his conclusion so very slowly and silently that it is hard to say when he passed from speculative approbation of war to the actual determination to fight" (The Catholic Encyclopedia online).

The Armada left Lisbon on the 20th of May, 1588, bound for Flanders, where it was to join the Prince of Parma, but found it necessary to put back in the harbor of Corunna in order to refit. When the Armada reassembled it sailed eastward towards Flanders attracting the attention of the English who immediately put out from Plymouth and managed to slip past the Spaniards in the night, gaining a tremendous advantage which they never lost, and so inflicting terrible damage on the Armada from behind as it sailed up the Channel. Their next tactic is famous in history. The English sent fireships to drift into the Armada as the tide flowed. With their forces much depleted, the great battle off Gravelines, was a complete defeat of the Spanish by the English. "The defeat no doubt set bounds on the expansion of Spain, and secured the power of her rival. Yet it is a mistake to suppose that this change was immediate, obvious, or uniform. The wars of religion in France, promoted by Elizabeth, ended in weakening that country to such an extent that Spain seemed within two years of the Armada to be nearer to universal domination than ever before, and this consummation was averted by the reconciliation of Henry IV to Catholicism, which, by reuniting France, restored the balance of power in Europe, as was acknowledged by Spain at the peace of Vervius in 1598" (The Catholic Encyclopedia online).

 "All the elements of the modern atlas were brought to publication in Abraham Ortelius' "Theatrum Orbis Terrarum". This substantial undertaking assembled... the best available maps of the world by the most renowned and up-to-date geographers... each of Ortelius' maps was engraved specifically for his atlas according to uniform formats" (Shirley). 

Ortelius first published his "Theatrum…", arguably the first atlas in the modern sense of the word, in 1570, with 70 seventy copper engravings on fifty-three double-folio pages. A businessman native to Antwerp, Ortelius compiled the best existing maps, re-engraved them on a standardized format, and included them with the text in one volume. But, by 1570, he had been dealing in maps and charts for more than twenty years. The death of Ortelius' father in 1535, who had been a wealthy merchant, seems to have placed his family in financial difficulties. When Ortelius was as young as 19 he is recorded as having joined the Guild of St. Luke as 'afsetter' "or colourist of maps and prints. He seems to have reached a very advanced level of skill in this craft, as some customers continued to insist on buying atlases coloured by him personally at a time when he had already developed into a publisher and cartographer/merchant… Ortelius [also] became a trader in books, prints and maps. Much of this trading had to do with the house of Plantin [subsequently publisher of the 'Theatrum']…Soon he was attending the book fair in Frankfurt to buy and sell books, maps and prints for others as well as for himself. He first met Gerard Mercator there in 1554, which marked the state of a life-long professional relationship and personal friendship… " (van den Broecke page 14).

Through his work Ortelius became quite the cosmopolitan, he travelled extensively to France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Hungary, Italy, England and Ireland, and as a result had command of several languages. With the publication of the "Theatrum" came tremendous success and wealth. Giving full credit to the original cartographers, the "Theatrum" was so successful that it was printed three times in 1570 alone.  Between 1570 and 1612 the atlas was published in 42 editions and the 7 languages: Latin, German, Flemish, French, Spanish, English and Italian.  Abraham Ortelius and the First Atlas: Essays Commemorating the Quadricentennial of his Death 1598-1998. Koeman, Ort 23; Shirley BL T.ORT-1x; van den Broecke, page 14; Van der Krogt IIIA, 31:431. Catalogued by Kate Hunter