Abraham Ortelius (Abraham Ortels) (April 14, 1527 - June 28, 1598) was a Flemish cartographer and geographer, generally recognised as the creator of the first modern atlas, the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (Theatre of the World). He is also believed to be the first person to imagine that the continents were joined together before drifting to their present positions.
He was born in the city of Antwerp, which was then in the Habsburg ruled Seventeen Provinces and is now in Belgium. A member of the influential Ortelius family of Augsburg, he traveled extensively in Europe. He is specifically known to have traveled throughout the Seventeen Provinces, in southern, western, northern, and eastern Germany (e.g., 1560, 1575-1576), France (1559-1560), England and Ireland (1576), and Italy (1578, and perhaps twice or thrice between 1550 and 1558).
Beginning as a map-engraver, in 1547 he entered the Antwerp guild of St Luke as afsetter van Karten. His early career was that of a businessman, and most of his journeys before 1560 were for commercial purposes (such as his yearly visits to the Frankfurt book and print fair). In 1560, however, when travelling with Mercator to Trier, Lorraine, and Poitiers, he seems to have been attracted, largely by Mercator's influence, towards the career of a scientific geographer, in particular he now devoted himself, at his friendâs suggestion, to the compilation of that atlas, or Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (Theatre of the World), by which he became famous.
In 1575 he was appointed geographer to the king of Spain, Philip II, on the recommendation of Arias Montanus, who vouched for his orthodoxy (his family, as early as 1535, had fallen under suspicion of Protestantism). In 1578 he laid the basis of a critical treatment of ancient geography by his Synonymia geographica (issued by the Plantin press at Antwerp and republished in expanded form as Thesaurus geographicus in 1587 and again expanded in 1596. In this last edition, Ortelius considers the possibility of continental drift, a hypothesis proved correct only centuries later).
In 1596 he received a presentation from Antwerp city, similar to that afterwards bestowed on Rubens. His death on June 28, 1598, and burial, in St Michaelâs Praemonstratensian Abbey church in Antwerp, were marked by public mourning. Quietis cultor sine lite, uxore, prole, reads the inscription on his tombstone.
In 1564 he completed a "mappemonde", eight-leaved map of the world, which afterwards appeared in reduced form in the Theatrum. The only extant copy of this great map is in the library of the University of Basel (cf. Bernoulli, Ein Karteninkunabelnband, Basle, 1905, p. 5). He also published a two-sheet map of Egypt in 1565, a plan of the Brittenburg castle on the coast of the Netherlands in 1568, an eight-sheet map of Asia in 1567, and a six-sheet map of Spain before the appearance of his atlas.
In 1579 he brought out his Nomenclator Ptolemaicus and started his Parergon (a series of maps illustrating ancient history, sacred and secular). He also published Itinerarium per nonnuilas Galliae Belgicae partes (at the Plantin press in 1584, and reprinted in 1630, 1661 in Hegenitius, Itin. Frisio-Hoil. In 1667 by Verbiest, and finally in 1757 in Leuven), a record of a journey in Belgium and the Rhineland made in 1575. In 1589 he published Maris Pacifici, the first dedicated map of the Pacific to be printed. Among his last works were an edition of Caesar (C. I. Caesaris omnia quae extant, Leiden, Raphelingen, 1593), and the Aurei saeculi imago, sive Germanorum veterum vita, mores, ritus et religio. (Philippe Galle, Antwerp, 1596). He also aided Welser in his edition of the Peutinger Table in 1598.
Originals of Ortelius' maps are popular collector's items and often sell for tens of thousands of dollars. Facsimiles of his maps are also available from many retailers. A map he made of North and South America is also included in the world's largest commercially available jigsaw puzzle which is of four world maps.