16th Century Maps, Foreign Maps, Maps

Abraham Ortelius- Tempe


Our next feature is of Tempe by Abraham Ortelius, an iconic Flemish map maker, scholar, and geographer. This copper-plate engraving is from the 1595 Latin Text Edition of Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, in the Parergon Theatri, the classical atlas added to Theatrum. While not called an atlas at the time, Theatrum Orbis Terrarum is considered the first true atlas in the modern sense—a collection of uniform sheets and sustaining text bound in a book for which copper printing plates were specifically engraved.

This richly-colored view is a depiction of the illusory paradise of Tempe in Thessaly, Greece. Located at the foot of Mount Olympus, this valley was known as the playground of the gods. The Pineios River, named after the river god Peneus, curves through the valley, separating Macedonian lands and Thessaly lands. On the banks, Bay Laurel trees grow, whose aromatic leaves were used in chaplets to crown the victors of the Pythian Games. The view features jovial scenes of merry-making, feasting, and dancing, but with the striking and prominent mountain peaks, Tempe also alludes to the power of the gods. Moreover, with an engraved temple and alter of Jupiter featured, Ortelius’ Tempe is truly a nod to the mythical, magical, and fabled. The view was based on information from ancient sources, specifically, the writings of Ovidius, Athenaeus, Plinius, Herodotus, and Aelianus.

In the lower right corner, the brilliantly decorated cartouche reads:

“Est nemus Æmoniæ prærupta quod undiqß claudit | Silva, vocant Tempe, per quæ Peneus ab imo | Effusus Pindo, spumosis volvitur undis.”               Translation: Hear in the inaccessible forests of Æmonia, which is everywhere enclosed by the forest called Tempe, through which the river Peneus, scattered by the Pindus Mountain range, tosses with foamy waves.

Along the bottom left, the following is also engraved:

“Delineatum et editum auctore Ab. Ortelio | cum priuilegio decennali 1590” Translation: Designed and published by Abraham Ortelius with a ten year privilege. 1590.

Ortelius, born in 1527, started off as a map colorist, and did not produce any maps of his own until the mid-1560’s. An avid coin collector, merchant, and traveler, Ortelius made connections throughout the merchant and navigation community. With acquaintances like Gerard Mercator and William Camden, Ortelius was blessed with substantial feedback and support.  Ortelius’ 1570 first Edition of Theatrum featured 53 map plates. By 1598, there were 119 plates in the atlas, and after his death, once Vrints had taken control of publication, the plates numbered around 128. Theatrum Orbis Terrarum became the most successful cartographic publication to date, being issued for over forth years, in over seven languages. Beyond the wide success of the atlas, Theatrum was ground breaking in that each map had a printed description of the area featured and Ortelius credited the authors of the original maps, which he had copied. Throughout its publication, Theatrum was the undisputed leader in the field of European map-making.  

Click to check out this print  and  more by Ortelius at our website.


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