Discovering the World, Atlases from the Age of Exploration

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Launch Slideshow

The upcoming Travel, Atlases, Maps and Natural History sale at Sotheby's on 14 May will feature a selection of remarkable works from the golden age of Dutch cartography, including Ortelius' first modern atlas and Braun & Hogenberg's first town book. These atlases give a unique insight into the discovery of the world during the Age of Exploration, and reveal the access Dutch Cartographers had to the ongoing discoveries made by the Dutch East India Company. Click the image above to view the slideshow.

Discovering the World, Atlases from the Age of Exploration

  • Abraham Ortelius, Theatrum orbis terrarum. Antwerp: Plantin, [1592], Estimate £70,000–90,000
    This is a finely coloured copy by Ortelius, one of the most influential cartographers of the 16th century. The Theatrum is widely recognised as the first modern atlas, which came to shape the future of cartography. "Shape and contents set the standards for later atlases, when the centre of the map-trade moved from Antwerp to Amsterdam. The characteristic feature of the Theatrum is, that it consists of two elements, forming part of a unitary whole: text and maps. This concept for a 'Theatre of the world' was followed through the 17th century. Before Ortelius no one had done this" (Koeman). The appended Catalogus Auctorum is a unique source of names of contemporary cartographers, some of whom would otherwise have remained obscure.
  • Georg Braun and Frans Hogenberg, Civitates orbis terrarum. Cologne: Bertram Buchholtz, [1597, 1599, 1599], Estimate £35,000–40,000
    A handsome set of Braun and Hogenberg’s early town books . It is the first comprehensive collection of town views gathered in atlas form. Many of the city views had not been seen before. Furthermore, it is a great anthropological and geographical source for information about the 16th century. "The Civitates orbis terrarum or the 'Braun & Hogenberg' is the most famous of the early town atlases. The Civitates was, like Ortelius' Theatrum, one of the best-selling works in the last quarter of the 16th century. Although it had no comparable predecessor, it immediately answered a great public demand because social, political and economic life at that time was concentrated in cities. Apart from that the pictorial style of the plans and views appealed very much to the uneducated public" (Van der Krogt).
  • Frederick de Wit, [Composite atlas]. [c.1680-1686], Estimate £50,000–70,000
    A fine copy from the Library of Lord Wardington, the greatest known atlas collector. In common with other relatively early de Wit atlases, this copy contains a corpus of maps formerly in the plate-stock of other Amsterdam map publishers such as Mercator, Hondius, Janssonius, Blaeu, and Visscher. The de Wit composite or 'dual-purpose' atlas is an early example of an atlas planned at its outset to serve as a land and a sea atlas in one.
  • John Speed and Pieter van den Keere, England Wales Scotland and Ireland Described. [London], 1666, [bound with] A Prospect of the Most Famous Parts of the World. London, 1668. Estimate £2,000–3,000
    The uncommon Roger Rea edition of the "miniature Speed" atlas. It is the earliest detailed pocket atlas of France, a comprehensive topographical guide illustrating the country's regions, towns and architecture during the early seventeenth century. A few foreign cities are also included, notably Turin and Geneva. Several of the town views of France were copied from subjects in Braun and Hogenberg's Civitates orbis terrarum.
  • Joan Blaeu, Novum ac magnum theatrum urbium Belgicae Foederate... [with:] Novum ac magnum theatrum urbium Belgicae Regiae. Amsterdam, [1649], Estimate £30,000–40,000
    A fine set of Blaeu’s set of famous townbooks of the Low Countries, in a handsome binding. "Of all the Blaeu atlases, the townbooks of the Netherlands are held in the highest esteem in the Netherlands. This is partly due to the fact that their composition is linked up with the struggle for independence from Spain of the Dutch Republic in the 17th century" (Koeman).
  • Willem Janszoon, and Joan Blaeu, Theatrum orbis terrarum, sive atlas novus in quo tabulae et descriptiones omnium regionum. Amstedam, 1640-1654, 4 volumes, Estimate £70,000–90,000
    A fine example from the Dutch Golden Age of Cartography. Atlases printed and produced in the Low Countries during the Golden Age are among the most spectacular of books. The apex of this period are the atlases produced by the Blaeu family. Willem Janszoon Blaeu and his son Joan worked as cartographers for the Dutch East India Company, and this association meant that not only did they have access to the updated records of ongoing exploration but also a wide range of impressive Flemish artistic sources. All of these factors resulted in maps and atlases of unparalleled impressiveness, where the previously unchartered territory of the new world was presented amongst rich and decorative engravings.
  • Willem and Joan Blaeu, Le Theatre du Monde. Amsterdam, 1643-1645, 4 volumes, A fine French-text copy in a presentation binding. Estimate £70,000–90,000
    The presentation inscription is dated 3 July 1646, from François du Monstier (rector of the University of Paris from 1643-1646) on behalf of the University of Paris to Omer Talon. Talon (c.1595-1652) was avocat-général to the French Parliament from 1632 until his death and a state councillor. He was also a patron of the University of Paris.
  • Johannes Jansson, Atlantis majoris quinta pars, orbem maritimum… editio novissima. Amsterdam, 1657, Estimate £7,000–10,000
    An attractive collection of maps from the maritime volume of Jansson’s atlas. Johannes Janssonius (1588-1664) was a Dutch cartographer who lived and worked in Amsterdam in the 17th century. Janssonius' maps are similar to those of Blaeu, and he is often accused of copying from his rival, even though but many of his maps predate those of Blaeu.
  • [P. Francois Santini], Atlas Universel dressé sur les meilleures cartes modernes. Venice, 1784[-1806], Estimate £6,000-8,000
    A very good copy of Santini’s world atlas reprinted by Remondini . Although Italian and published in Venice, all the maps are based on the best cartographers of the mid-eighteenth century. Santini was a latter-day Ortelius, selecting the best work of his continental contemporaries and having it re-engraved.
  • John Speed, The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britain, Presenting an Exact Geography of the Kingdom of England, Scotland, Ireland and the Isles adjoyning... A Prospect of the most Famous Parts of the World... With many Additions never before Extant. London, 1676, Estimate £75,000–90,000
    This is the best edition of John Speed’s famous atlas . The Theatre is a landmark in the history of British topography. It was the first English attempt to produce a grand scale atlas, with the first detailed maps of the provinces of Ireland, the first set of county maps attempting to show territorial divisions, and the first comprehensive set of English town plans. This edition of the Prospect includes eight maps (on seven mapsheets) appearing for the first time: Virginia and Maryland, New England, Carolina, Jamaica and Barbados, East India, Russia and Canaan.
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