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Abraham Ortelius (1527 - 1598)
 Map of Luxembourg.
Printed in Antwerp by Jan Baptist Vrients in 1603.
Copperplate engraving with original hand coloring

Map of Luxembourg by Abraham Ortelius. In the east the Moselle from Metz to Trier, in the west the Meuse with Namur and Charleville-Mézières. Decorated with two beautiful cartouches. First published in 1596 in Theatrum Orbis Terrarum by Ortelius. This example comes from the Latin edition of 1603. Latin text on verso.

Abraham Ortelius was born 1527 in Antwerp. He studied mathematics, Greek and Latin and travelled a lot across Europe. He established a business in dealing with books and drawing maps. His first remarkable map was a 8 sheet world map in the year 1564, but only three copies have survived. In 1570 he issued the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, the first modern Atlas with uniformly sized maps in a systematic collection. The term Atlas was not used until Mercator introduced it 20 years later. Most of the maps in Theatrum have been engraved by Frans Hogenberg. At the time of publication, the atlas was the most expensive book ever printed. Nevertheless it was a big success and around 7000 copies have been printed until 1612 in many editions and six different languages. Beside the Theatrum, Ortelius compiled a series of historical maps and published it in the Parergon Theatri which was bound with the Theatrum from 1579 onwards or published separately.

It is generally considered that Ortelius drafted the maps from original source material himself and in his catalogus auctorum tabularum he carefully recorded the names of the geographers and contributors to his Theatrum Orbis Terrarum. The plates were then engraved by Frans Hogenberg, the topographer and co-author of the multi-volume Civitates Orbis Terrarum.


The present map of Luxembourg was first published in the 1596 edition of the Theatrum. It bears the Imperial Privilege and was probably produced in the early 1600s. For instance, a Latin version of the atlas was released in 1603. With its stylized cartouche and figures reminiscent of Roman grottesche it is a remarkable testament to Ortelius’ abilities as a cartographer, as well as his aesthetic ideals. It should thus be mentioned that in his youth he frequently travelled to Central and Southern Europe and probably became acquainted with the Roman decorative style that this figurative composition seems to reflect.


Jean Surhon is recorded as the map’s author. However, the designation “auctore” is ambivalent and the mysterious Surhon was most likely the engraver of Ortelius’ design. He is known to have been the cartographer in only three cases and his maps of Namur, Vermandois, and Picardie have been published in the 1570 and 1579 editions of the Theatrum respectively.


Lutzenburgensis Ducatus is very well preserved and features an elaborate and vivid color scheme. It retains full margins.


The importance of Abraham Ortelius (1527-1598) in the history of cartography is superlative. Starting his career as a colorist, he became not only the wealthiest citizen of Antwerp and Royal Geographer to the King of Spain; the monumental Theatrum Orbis Terrarum also established Ortelius as the creator of the first modern atlas and heir to Ptolemy whom he references in his display of some truly encyclopedic knowledge. Walter Ristow summarizes the mapmaker’s achievements as follows: “Publication of the Theatrum was a significant milestone in the evolution and development of cartography, for it established the atlas as the predominant cartographic publication format and set the stage for the atlas publishing industry which flourished in the Netherlands during the 17th century.”



Koeman, Cornelius: “Atlantes Neerlandici: Bibliography of terrestrial, maritime and celestial atlases and pilot books, published in the Netherlands up to 1880”, Amsterdam 1967-1985.

Ristow, Walter: “Theatrum Orbis Terrarum 1570-1970”, in: The Quarterly Journal of the Library of Congress 27 (1970), pp. 316-331.

Van den Broecke, Marcel: “The significance of language: The texts on the verso of the maps in Abraham Ortelius’ Theatrum Orbis Terrarum”, in: Imago Mundi 60 (2008), pp. 202-210.