Who Was Abraham Ortelius? Here Are Facts You Must Know About Him
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Abraham Ortelius is credited with creating the first modern atlas Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (Theater of the World) in 1570. He was a Flemish cartographer, trained engraver, and geographer. He was influenced by his friend Gerardus Mercator, whom he met at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 1554, and was interested in map-making, which later became, among other things, the main thing the world will remember him for.

Who Was Abraham Ortelius? – Biography

Ortelius belonged to an influential Catholic family in Augsburg, which was suspected of having joined the Protestant movement at the time. His father had three children, including him, but died in 1535, so Abraham and his siblings were raised by his uncle Jacob van Meteren (who had previously been in exile). As a result, he also became very close to his cousin Emanuel van Meteren, who was a Flemish historian and consul. Ortelius opened a store where he sold books and antiques, which were managed by him and his sister.


Abraham Ortelius was born on April 14, 1527, in Antwerp, which then belonged to the Habsburg Netherlands, but is now part of present-day Belgium. He did not acquire much in formal education, probably as a result of his father’s death when he was still at a tender age. As a youth, he studied mathematics, Latin, and Greek and completed an apprenticeship as a map engraver, which earned him entry into the Antwerp Guild of Map Illuminators in 1557.

He is often regarded as one of the founders of the Dutch School of Cartography and as one of the most remarkable personalities of this school in its heyday (the 1570s-1670s).

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Early Career

Ortelius began his career as a card engraver, probably without even realizing it. In 1554 he trained as an engraver and founded his business, where he dealt in books and antiques. In the years 1559-1560, he accompanied his friend Mercator on his cartographic expedition through Trier, Lorraine, and Poitiers. During this journey, Mercator convinced his friend not only to engrave and color other people’s maps but to become a cartographer himself. In this way, he directed his interest in map production.

He traveled through Europe and sold books, prints, and maps. This inspired him to start his work as a compiler and publisher of maps. It can be said that his map business was the reason for his unusually extensive travels to Germany, England, and Italy, and especially for his annual visits to the large trade fair in Leipzig.


Who Was Abraham Ortelius? Here Are Facts You Must Know About Him
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Besides his work on the first modern atlas, the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, he produced maps of the world (1564) on a heart projection, Egypt (1565), and Asia (1567). In 1587 he published the Thesaurus Geographicus, which is of great value as an encyclopedia of ancient geography. Even more important than the dictionary is the accompanying map catalog (Catalogus auctorum tabularum geographicarum), which contains the names and works of ninety-nine cartographers who lived before 1570.

Ortelius published his Itinerarium per nonnullas Galliæ Belgicæ partes in 1575, which contains much important information about the geography of Belgium. One of the fruits of his persistent efforts as a collector of archaeological specimens or objects was his brochure: Deorum, Dearumque Capita ex veteribus numismatibus (1575), which contained some reproductions from his highly admired archaeological collection.

Abraham Ortelius is credited with being the first to observe the geometric similarity between the coasts of America and Europe-Africa, citing the theory of continental drift as the reason for this. Among his many other works are his contributions to cartography and geography.

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Abraham Ortelius Death

Ortelius died in Antwerp on June 28, 1598, after his numerous achievements and contributions to humanity. One can say that he was so subsumed in his works that he had no room to think about marriage and children. Therefore he did not marry and had no children. He spent most of his life in his hometown Antwerp, where his mother and his sister Anne lived since they were his only family.

He was buried in St. Michael’s Abbey in Antwerp and was mourned by everyone and everything. His tombstone bears the famous inscription “Quietis cultor sine lite, uxore, prole”, which translated means “served quietly, without accusation, wife, and descendants”.

Abraham Ortelius will be remembered forever as the creator of the first modern atlas and for proposing the idea that the continents were all together before drifting apart to their different locations (continental drift).