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Theatrum Orbis Terrarum

This engraving of the Pacific Ocean is from a 1595 edition of the first manageable and uniform modern atlas of the world. Abraham Ortelius's Theatre of the Whole World, or Theatrum orbis terrarum, was first published in 1570.

A Dutchman who served as geographer to King Philip II of Spain, Ortelius explains in his preface that he reviewed all the modern maps he could find, selected the best, and then had them rendered to his specifications on a scale small enough to fit into the book. Crediting the original cartographers by name, Ortelius acknowledges some eighty-four individuals in the 1570 first edition, including Ptolemy and Mercator; in the 1595 edition, published three years before his death, the list has grown to 170, reflecting a similar increase in the number of maps

This map is interesting not only for the greatly oversized land mass of New Guinea (Australia was not yet known to Europeans) but for the details of the Americas, from the shape of the Florida and California coastlines to such early settlements as Cuba and Hispaniola in the Caribbean and Peru, Chile, and Patagonia to the south. At left, the map includes a distorted but recognizable depiction of China, the Philippines, and Japan, along with a note in Latin on the growing number of Christians in the region, a result of Jesuit missionary efforts.

Abraham Ortelius. Theatrum Orbis Terrarum. Antwerp, 1595

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