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Prestor John Map (Western & Central Africa), by Abraham Ortelius. 1579

This map, known as the Prester John Map depicts Africa from the Mediterranean to the Mountains of the Moon, which are placed below Mozambique.
The dedication to biblical David is at the upper left, surrounded by the typical floral strap-like ornamentation. Above the dedication is the coat of arms of Prester John, and a long genealogical record traces his ancestors to King David. In the right lower corner is a similar flower-bordered rectangular cartouche with the map's title.

About 1150 A.D., a rumour spread through Europe that somewhere in Asia, there was a powerful Christian emperor named Presbyter Johannes (with the court title of 'Gurkhan'), who had founded the kingdom of Kara Khitai. He had broken the power of the Musselman in his domain after a fierce and bloody fight. The mysterious Priest-King became a symbol of hope in the Christian world beset by Mongol hordes. Pope Alexander II resolved to make contact with Prester John, and his first step was to address a letter to him (dated 27 September 1177). The pope's physician was dispatched to deliver the letter in person. He never returned. Pope Innocent IV was even more determined than his predecessor and decided to convert the barbarians instead of conquering them. Dominican and Franciscan missionaries and civil ambassadors of peace plodded back and forth between the pope, the King of France and the Mogul Khan. These travellers soon learned that His Highness Presbyter Johannes and the Christian kingdom in deepest Asia were probably myths. But the popular fancy was not quickly dispelled, and instead of allowing their bubble to be punctured, the people merely transferred the kingdom of Prester John to Africa - specifically Abyssinia. No one knew very much about Abyssinia. A few die-hards like John de Plano Carpini and Marco Polo persisted in the belief that prester John still reigned in all his splendour deep in the heart of the Orient. On the larger map in Higden's Polychronicon the empire of Prester John was located in lower Scythia within the limits of Europe. Still, on the map of Marino Sanuto, it was placed in further India. It was moved again to Central Asia and ended up in Abyssinia. However, the legend persisted, and four hundred years after Pope Alexander III wrote his letter to Presbyter Johannes, Abraham Ortelius issues his separate map. (L.A. Brown, The Story of Maps. pp. 98-99.)


Abraham Ortelius (1527-1598)

The maker of the 'first atlas,' the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (1570), was born on 4 April 1527 into an old Antwerp family. He learned Latin and studied Greek and mathematics.
Abraham and his sisters Anne and Elizabeth, took up map colouring. He was admitted to the Guild of St. Luke as an "illuminator of maps." Besides colouring maps, Ortelius was a dealer in antiques, coins, maps, and books, with the book and map trade gradually becoming his primary occupation.
Business went well because his means permitted him to start an extensive collection of medals, coins, and antiques, as well as a library of many volumes. He traveled a lot and visited Italy and France, made contacts everywhere with scholars and editors, and maintained an extensive correspondence with them.

In 1564 he published his first map, a large and ambitious wall map of the world. The inspiration for this map may well have been Gastaldi's large world map. In 1565 he published a map of Egypt and a map of the Holy Land, a large map of Asia followed.
In 1568 the production of individual maps for his atlas Theatrum Orbis Terrarum was already in full swing. The atlas was completed in the year 1569, and in May of 1570, the Theatrum was available for sale. It was one of the most expensive books ever published.
This first edition contained seventy maps on fifty-three sheets.The maps were engraved by Franciscus Hogenberg.
Later editions included Additamenta (additions) that later resulted in Ortelius' historical atlas, the Parergon, mostly bound together with the atlas. The Parergon can be called a truly original work of Ortelius, who drew the maps based on his own research.

The importance of the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum for geographical knowledge in the last quarter of the sixteenth century is difficult to overemphasize. There was nothing else like it until Mercator's atlas appeared twenty-five years later. Demand for the Theatrum was remarkable. Altogether some 24 editions appeared during Ortelius's lifetime and another 10 after his death in 1598. Editions had been published in Dutch, German, French, Spanish, English, and Italian. The number of map sheets grew from 53 in 1570 to 167 in 1612, in the last edition.

In 1577, engraver Philip Galle and poet-translator Pieter Heyns published the first pocket-sized edition of the Theatrum, the Epitome. The work was very popular. Over thirty editions of this Epitome were published in different languages.

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Prestor John Map (Western & Central Africa), by Abraham Ortelius.

€600  ($702 / £510)
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Item Number:  28226  new
Category:  Antique maps > Africa
References: Van der Krogt 3 - 8720:31; Van den Broecke - #175; Norwich O.I. - #11; Karrow - 1/105

Old, antique map of Ethiopia, by Abraham Ortelius.

Title: Presbiteri Iohannis, sive, abissinorum Imperii Descriptio.

Date of the first edition: 1573.
Date of this map: 1584.

Copper engraving, printed on paper.
Size (not including margins): 375 x 440mm (14.70 x 17.28 inches).
Verso: Latin text.
Condition: Original coloured, excellent.
Condition Rating: A+.
References: Van der Krogt 3, 8720:31; Van den Broecke, #175; Norwich O.I., #11; Karrow, 1/105

From: Theatrum Orbis Terrarum. Antwerp, Christoffel Plantin, 1584. (Van der Krogt, 31:031)

This map, known as the Prester John Map depicts Africa from the Mediterranean to the Mountains of the Moon, which are placed below Mozambique.
The dedication to biblical David is at the upper left, surrounded by the typical floral strap-like ornamentation. Above the dedication is the coat of arms of Prester John, and a long genealogical record traces his ancestors to King David. In the right lower corner is a similar flower-bordered rectangular cartouche with the map's title.

About 1150 A.D., a rumour spread through Europe that somewhere in Asia, there was a powerful Christian emperor named Presbyter Johannes (with the court title of 'Gurkhan'), who had founded the kingdom of Kara Khitai. He had broken the power of the Musselman in his domain after a fierce and bloody fight. The mysterious Priest-King became a symbol of hope in the Christian world beset by Mongol hordes. Pope Alexander II resolved to make contact with Prester John, and his first step was to address a letter to him (dated 27 September 1177). The pope's physician was dispatched to deliver the letter in person. He never returned. Pope Innocent IV was even more determined than his predecessor and decided to convert the barbarians instead of conquering them. Dominican and Franciscan missionaries and civil ambassadors of peace plodded back and forth between the pope, the King of France and the Mogul Khan. These travellers soon learned that His Highness Presbyter Johannes and the Christian kingdom in deepest Asia were probably myths. But the popular fancy was not quickly dispelled, and instead of allowing their bubble to be punctured, the people merely transferred the kingdom of Prester John to Africa - specifically Abyssinia. No one knew very much about Abyssinia. A few die-hards like John de Plano Carpini and Marco Polo persisted in the belief that prester John still reigned in all his splendour deep in the heart of the Orient. On the larger map in Higden's Polychronicon the empire of Prester John was located in lower Scythia within the limits of Europe. Still, on the map of Marino Sanuto, it was placed in further India. It was moved again to Central Asia and ended up in Abyssinia. However, the legend persisted, and four hundred years after Pope Alexander III wrote his letter to Presbyter Johannes, Abraham Ortelius issues his separate map. (L.A. Brown, The Story of Maps. pp. 98-99.)


Abraham Ortelius (1527-1598)

The maker of the 'first atlas,' the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (1570), was born on 4 April 1527 into an old Antwerp family. He learned Latin and studied Greek and mathematics.
Abraham and his sisters Anne and Elizabeth, took up map colouring. He was admitted to the Guild of St. Luke as an "illuminator of maps." Besides colouring maps, Ortelius was a dealer in antiques, coins, maps, and books, with the book and map trade gradually becoming his primary occupation.
Business went well because his means permitted him to start an extensive collection of medals, coins, and antiques, as well as a library of many volumes. He traveled a lot and visited Italy and France, made contacts everywhere with scholars and editors, and maintained an extensive correspondence with them.

In 1564 he published his first map, a large and ambitious wall map of the world. The inspiration for this map may well have been Gastaldi's large world map. In 1565 he published a map of Egypt and a map of the Holy Land, a large map of Asia followed.
In 1568 the production of individual maps for his atlas Theatrum Orbis Terrarum was already in full swing. The atlas was completed in the year 1569, and in May of 1570, the Theatrum was available for sale. It was one of the most expensive books ever published.
This first edition contained seventy maps on fifty-three sheets.The maps were engraved by Franciscus Hogenberg.
Later editions included Additamenta (additions) that later resulted in Ortelius' historical atlas, the Parergon, mostly bound together with the atlas. The Parergon can be called a truly original work of Ortelius, who drew the maps based on his own research.

The importance of the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum for geographical knowledge in the last quarter of the sixteenth century is difficult to overemphasize. There was nothing else like it until Mercator's atlas appeared twenty-five years later. Demand for the Theatrum was remarkable. Altogether some 24 editions appeared during Ortelius's lifetime and another 10 after his death in 1598. Editions had been published in Dutch, German, French, Spanish, English, and Italian. The number of map sheets grew from 53 in 1570 to 167 in 1612, in the last edition.

In 1577, engraver Philip Galle and poet-translator Pieter Heyns published the first pocket-sized edition of the Theatrum, the Epitome. The work was very popular. Over thirty editions of this Epitome were published in different languages.