Spanish Edition of Ortelius's Atlas
By ORTELIUS, Abraham , 1588

Theatrum Orbis Terrarum.

  • Author: ORTELIUS, Abraham
  • Publication place: Antwerp
  • Publisher: Christopher Plantin
  • Publication date: 1588.
  • Physical description: Folio (460 by 300mm), title, 100 double-page engraved maps, all with fine original colour, seventeenth century mottled calf, rebacked preserving original spine, gilt, red morocco label to spine, lettered in gilt.
  • Inventory reference: 2129


A fine example of the first Spanish edition of Ortelius’ Theatrum – “the first true atlas”.

Abraham Ortelius (1527-1598) took an active interest in cartography from an early age. He began his career as a “kaarten afzetter” (illuminator of maps) purchasing single (generally wall) maps from booksellers and colouring them for re-sale. He travelled extensively in his search for new material and was a well-known face at the Frankfurt bookfairs. It was whilst travelling that Ortelius built up his unrivalled web of contacts, which included many of the leading historians, scientists, and cartographer’s of the day.

These contacts would prove invaluable in the compiling and completion of his ‘Theatrum orbis Terrarum’ first published in 1570. The work was “the first true atlas” (van der Broecke): all the maps were of a uniform size and style, with an engraved title, accompanying text, and – hitherto unheard of in cartographic publications – a list of the source material. With its comprehensive scope, the atlas was a huge step forward compared with the contemporary ‘Lafreri’ atlases, which were bound up to order and so reflected the whims of the customer. Even though it was the most expensive work published at the time, it proved an instant success with four versions of the first edition being printed in 1570 alone. The work would go on to be published for 42 years, with some 31 editions being produced.

The Spanish edition was the initiative of the publisher Christoffel Plantin. After a short stay in Calvanist Leiden it was necessary for him to prove his loyalty to the Spanish king, so he decided to publish a Spanish translation of the atlas, dedicated to the future King Philip III. The Franciscan monk Balthasar Vincentius translated the text into Spanish.

Van der Krogt states that Christoffel Plantin published 255 copies of the 1588 edition, and records 24 institutional copies.


  1. van der Krogt 31:431.

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