Folio (16 6/8 x 11 4/8 inches). Title within engraved architectural border with allegorical figures (lower margin renewed, fore-edge strengthened) and 91 maps on 70 mapsheets, all with contemporary and later hand-colouring and mounted on guards, extra-illustrated with a hand-coloured engraved portrait of Leopold I (1640-1705) Holy Roman Emporer on the verso of the map of Germany, engraved portrait of three Belgians commemorating the Union of Utrecht in January 1579, dated Amsterdam 1579 on the verso of the map of Holland, engraved allegorical account of the heraldry of Denmark and Norway on the verso of the map of Norway hand-coloured in part, and numerous small engraved coats of arms applied to some regional maps of Europe ([A6] supplied and lower edge repaired, some early marginal repairs to the lower margins and gutters in particular, affecting the image on the maps of Europe and Salzburg, map of Italy with ink additions to Triton, map of Piedmont with 6 lines of text inked out on verso, some browning). Modern vellum over paste-board; preserved in a modern linen clamshell box.
Provenance: 17th-century list of contents at end and titles to maps on versos. Fifth Latin edition, first published in 1570. "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. In 1574 Ortelius retained the position of Royal Cosmographer to Phillip II and was given a fine gold necklace, worth 1000 ducats. Between 1570 and 1612 the atlas was published in 42 editions and the 7 languages: Latin, German, Flemish, French, Spanish, English and Italian. Koeman, Ort. 13. Catalogued by Kate Hunter