State Library of NSW

Theatrum orbis terrarium, 1575


The first modern atlas

Mapping the World

Theatrum orbis terrarium, 1575Abraham Ortelius published the first modern atlas, Theatrum orbis terrarum, in 1570. For the first time, a collection of maps of similar design and scale were bound together with related text into one volume. The name ‘atlas’ derived from Atlas, the kneeling Titan in Greek mythology who held up the world on his shoulders. He had been condemned to do this as punishment for taking part in the revolt of the Titans against the Olympian gods.

This 1575 edition is open at a map depicting South East Asia from India across to north-western America. A particular feature of the period was the extravagant decorations. In this map, two mermaids tend to their appearance with looking glasses, while a caravel, a Portuguese sailing ship, battles an attack from two sea monsters. The Coat -of-Arms of Portugal appears in the top left-hand corner above a decorative cartouche containing the title of the map.
Display item Theatrum orbis terrarium, 1575


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