Copper engraving, 34.5 x 49 cm, modern hand colour, Latin text on verso. Map of the Black Sea and eastern Mediterranean, with insets of Thessaly, Bithynia and western Europe, illustrating the mythical voyage of Jason and the Argonauts in their quest for the Golden Fleece.
The Fleece is depicted in the cartouche, flanked by the fire-breathing oxen which Jason had to yoke to the plough, and guarded by an ever watchful dragon. Ortelius’ dedicatee was the courtier and diplomat Charles of Arenburg, a knight of the order of the Golden Fleece. Our example was published by Balthasar Moretus at the Plantin Press, in the final edition of the Parergon. Ortelius’s Theatrum Orbis Terrarum is generally considered the first modern atlas of the world, originally published in 1570. Ortelius gathered and selected the best available cartographic knowledge and presented it in a single volume, duly credited and finely engraved in a consistent style, with explanatory text. The Theatrum was very decorative and hugely popular amongst the wealthy and educated, running into over forty editions in Latin and the major European languages. For Ortelius himself, however, his accompanying atlas of ancient geography, the Parergon, was a “personal work” (Koeman). He seems to have regarded himself, first and foremost, as an antiquary and, rather than copying other people’s maps, he drew the originals himself; they were subsequently engraved for him by the master engraver Jan Wierix. The results “have to be evaluated as the most outstanding engravings depicting the wide-spread interest in classical geography in the 16th century” (Koeman).
Koeman, Atlantes Neerlandici, Ort 46. Van den Broecke 226.