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BRAHAM ORTELIUS.
“Americae sive Novi Orbis, Nova Descriptio.”
In Theatrum Orbis Terrarum. Antwerp, 1570.

ABRAHAM ORTELIUS or Ortel (1527-1598) was a rare book dealer in Antwerp. In 1564 he produced a world map that, influenced by Jacques Cartier’s discoveries in 1534-41, showed the St. Lawrence River as a gateway to the Pacific Ocean. Ortelius was generally more of a compiler and publisher of maps and atlases than a cartographer, although he is considered second only to Gerhard Mercator among Flemish cartographers.

Inspired by his friend Mercator and borrowing from him, Ortelius compiled a book of maps coordinated in size and content. This book, Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, with maps engraved by Franz Hogenberg, is considered the first modern atlas.

The map on display first appeared in Ortelius’s atlas. The copy of the atlas in the McGregor Collection is a second edition, printed in the same year as the first edition. The atlas was published in forty-two editions in seven languages from 1570 to 1612. One remarkable feature of this book is that at a time when cartographers copied from the work of others without attribution, Ortelius scrupulously credited ninety-one sources in his atlas.

“Americae sive Novi Orbis”— provides a reasonably accurate outline of North America and improves on the representation of the St. Lawrence River that Ortelius made on his world map. However, the map shows a very narrow Pacific Ocean and situates New Guinea due south of California. “Americae sive Novi Orbis”— also locates “Quivira”— too far to the west. Here Ortelius seems to have relied on Francisco López de Gómara’s popular Historia general de las Indias (1552). In his book, López de Gómara mentions that Coronado had reported that the wealthy kingdom of Quivira was located at 40 degrees latitude. Since Coronado also reported that he had reached the sea, cartographers interpreted this to mean that Quivira must be located near the West coast.

Ortelius’s “Americae sive Novi Orbis”— also shows “Anian”— in the Northwest. Anian was a mythical kingdom that Marco Polo mentioned in his travel accounts. Before it appeared in America on this map, Anian was generally believed to be located off the coast of north Asia; curiously, Ortelius’s world map published just six years earlier locates “Anian”— on the Asian mainland.

Compared to other contemporary maps, “Americae sive Novi Orbis”— provides more detail because Ortelius was one of the first cartographers outside of Spain to adopt the place-names designated by the Spaniards de Niza, Coronado, and Cabrillo on their American explorations.


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