Theatrum Orbis Terrarum

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For Theatrum orbis terrarum, sive, Atlas novus by Blaeu 1635, see Atlas Maior.
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum
In 1570 (May 20) Gilles Coppens de Diest at Antwerp published 53 maps created by Abraham Ortelius under the title Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, considered the "first modern atlas".[Note 1] Three Latin editions of this (besides a Dutch, a French and a German edition) appeared before the end of 1572; twenty-five editions came out before Ortelius' death in 1598; and several others were published subsequently, for the atlas continued to be in demand till about 1612. This is the world map from this atlas.
Author Abraham Ortelius
Genre Atlas
Publisher Gilles Coppens de Diest
Publication date

Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (pronounced [tʰɛˈaːtrʊm ˈɔrbɪs tɛˈrːaːrʊm], "Theatre of the World") is considered to be the first true modern atlas. Written by Abraham Ortelius, strongly encouraged by Gillis Hooftman[2] and originally printed on May 20, 1570, in Antwerp,[3] it consisted of a collection of uniform map sheets and sustaining text bound to form a book for which copper printing plates were specifically engraved. The Ortelius atlas is sometimes referred to as the summary of sixteenth-century cartography.


The atlas contained virtually no maps from the hand of Ortelius, but 53 bundled maps of other masters, with the source as indicated. Previously, only the pooling of disparate maps were released as custom on order. The Ortelius atlas, however, dropped the maps for this all in the same style and on the same size on copper plates, logically arranged by continent, region and State. He provided the maps in addition to a descriptive comment and referrals on the reverse. So was first all Western European knowledge of the world brought together in one book.

In the bibliography, the section Catalogue Auctorum, not only were the 33 cartographers mentioned, whose work in the Theatrum was recorded (at that time not yet the habit), but also the total of 87 cartographers of the 16th century that Ortelius knew. This list grew in every Latin Edition, and included no less than 183 names in 1601. Among the sources are mentioned among other things the following: for the world map the World Map (1561) by Jacobo Gastaldi, the porto Avenue of the Atlantic coast (1562) by Diego Gutierrez, the world map (1569) of Gerardus Mercator, which have 8 maps derived from the Theatrum.

For the map of Europe, wall map (1554). of the Mercator map of Scandinavia (1539) by Olaus Magnus, map of Asia was derived from his own Asia-map from 1567, which in turn was inspired by that of Gastaldi (1559). Also for the Africa map he referred to Gastaldi.

This work by Ortelius, consisted of a collection of the best maps, refined by himself, combined into one map or split across multiple, and on the same size (folios of approximately 35 x 50 cm). The naming and location coordinates were not normalized.


After the initial publication of Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, Ortelius regularly revised and expanded the atlas,[3] reissuing it in various formats until his death in 1598. From its original seventy maps and eighty-seven bibliographic references in the first edition (1570), the atlas grew through its thirty-one editions to encompass 183 references and 167 maps in 1612.

The 1573 Additamentum to the atlas is notable for containing Humphrey Llwyd's Cambriae Typus, the first map to show Wales on its own.[4]

From the 1630s, the Blaeu family issued their work under a similar title, Theatrum orbis terrarum, sive, Atlas Novus.


Title page from a 1606 edition with female figures representing the continents

All those editions had the same structure. They started with an allegorical title page, on which the five known continents, were presented by allegorical women, with Europe as the Queen. Then a command to Philip II, King of Spain and the low countries, and a poem by Adolphus Mekerchus (Adolf of Meetkercke). From 1579, the editions contain a portrait of Ortelius by Philip Galle, an introduction by Ortelius, in the Latin editions followed by a recommendation by Mercator. This is followed by the bibliography (Auctorum Catalog), an index (Index Tabularum), the cards with text on the back, starting from 1579 in the Latin editions followed by a register of place names in ancient times (Nomenclator), the treatise, the Mona Druidum insula of the Welsh scientist Humphrey Lhuyd (Humphrey Llwyd) over the Anglesey coat of arms, and finally the privilege and a colophon.


The moneyed middle class, which had much interest in knowledge and science, turned out to be very much interested in the convenient size and the pooling of knowledge. For buyers who were not strong in Latin, published at the end of 1572, in addition to three Latin, there were a Dutch, German and French 2nd Edition. This rapid success prompted the Ortelius Theatrum constantly continued to expand and improve. In 1573, he released 17 more additional maps under the title Additamentum Theatri Orbis Terrarum, which in these master works were published, bringing the total at 70 maps. By Ortelius' death in 1598, there were twenty-five editions that appeared in 7 different languages.

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  1. ^ The first work that contained systematically arranged maps of uniform size, intended to be published in a book, thus representing the first modern atlas, was De Summa totius Orbis (1524–26) by the 16th-century Italian cartographer Pietro Coppo. Nonetheless, this distinction is conventionally awarded to Abraham Ortelius's Theatrum Orbis Terrarum.[1]


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This article incorporates information from the equivalent article on the Dutch Wikipedia.