A monument in cartographic history, this map is from the first edition of the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum—the Theater of the World—known today as the world’s first atlas. Previous collections—of which there were many—were eclectic offerings, produced from a variety of existing woodblocks. Ortelius compiled prints instead, using them as guides to create an entirely original set of engraved copper plates. He resized each source to a uniform scale, conforming them to a consistent style in the process. Even so, all of the maps were credited to their initial designers, many of whom Ortelius knew personally, making the atlas a cartographic who’s-who of the day.
Its publication signaled the ascendancy of Dutch mapmaking, a development that would make the Netherlands the epicenter of cartographic innovation for the next century. Cartographic advantage swiftly became instrumental to its expanding naval power and growing dominance of European trade. Within this profoundly commercial milieu, maps transcended simple utility to become a decorative art, prized as a pure expression of national identity. The inscription at bottom is a quote from Cicero, asking “Who can consider human affairs to be great, when he comprehends the eternity and vastness of the entire world?”