This highly decorative piece is the most influential map of the Middle East and adjacent regions made during the 16th Century, issued after the Ottoman armies had surged out of Turkey to form a great empire. The map embrace the vast region extending from Europe’s Danube Valley, in the northwest, down to Libya, in the southwest, and over past the Arabian Peninsula to the Indian Ocean, in the southeast, and up to region of Samarkand, in the northeast. Overall, the geography is quite progressive, being broadly recognizable to the modern observer. It is predicted on Giacomo Gastaldi’s fantastic and incredibly rare map, Il Disegno della Seconda Parte dell’Asia (Venice, 1561), which is itself based on stolen Portuguese manuscript charts.
The Arabian Peninsula is quite well formed, and the Red Sea (‘Mare de Mecca’) is shown with a high degree of correctness, although the Sinai Peninsula is not outlined. The Persian Gulf (‘Mare Elcatif’) is well-shaped, although the great rivers, such as the Euphrates and Tigris, assume somewhat conjectural courses, owing to the fact that few Europeans had recently explored the interior. Further north, the Caspian Sea assumes the egg-like shape is had on all maps made prior to the 1730s. In the Mediterranean, Turkey and the Levant is easily recognizable, while the Nile Valley takes on a simplified, but broadly accurate form. Important centres such as Constantinople, Cairo, Jerusalem, Damascus, Mecca, Aden, Muscat, Hormuz, and Bahrain are noted, while further annotations feature descriptions of certain locations. The composition is completed by the magnificent Mannerist title cartouche in the lower left.
The map is historically important and was highly influential during its era as the most recognizable and authoritative map of the Ottoman Empire depicted during its apogee. During the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent (1520-66), the Ottoman armies extended their conquests far beyond Turkey, conquering Southeastern Europe, almost the Gates of Vienna; all of the Middle East; North Africa as far west as Algeria; and much of the Arabian Peninsula, along the coasts of the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf. For almost three centuries the Ottomans would preside over one of the grandest and wealthiest empires the world had ever seen.
The present example represents Ortelius’s second edition of the map. The first edition was printed between 1570 and 1579 and was substantively the same as the second edition, except for that the title cartouche was different. It appears that the copperplate used for the first edition became worn down and was discarded. The second edition was engraved on an entirely new plate and the first issue was printed in 1579. The present example is from a German text edition of the Ortelius’s atlas, Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, and was printed sometime between 1580 and 1589.
Abraham Ortelius (1527-98) is widely hailed as the ‘The Father of Modern Cartography,’ being the compiler of the first modern atlas, the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (meaning ‘Theatre of the World’), first issued in Antwerp in 1570. Ortelius was a shrewd businessman who went to great lengths to obtain the finest possible source maps and to engrave works of great artistic beauty and intellectual merit. He was the earliest map mogul, as his publishing concern was the first cartographic enterprise to become a great international commercial empire. Ortelius’s maps were the most popular and widely recognized of his time and they had an enduring influence as numerous mapmakers copied them for many decades after his death.
Ortelius’s map is anchor piece for any collection of maps of the Middle East and its constituent countries and the present offering is an especially fine example, with full original colour.
References: Tibbetts, Arabia in Early Maps, no. 42 (p. 53); Van den Broecke, Ortelius Atlas Maps, no. 169 (p. 230).