Copper engraving, 38.5 x 48.5 cms, original hand-colour. Map of the legendary empire of Prester John, a Christian priest-king descended from one of the three Magi who supposedly ruled a vast territory bounded by heathens, which had been associated with East Africa in the western consciousness since the fourteenth century at least, although the myth is much older.
Our map contains cartographic information which is partly Ptolemaic – the source of the Nile is found in the twin lakes of Zaire and Zaflan – and partly has its origins in more recent exploration, specifically a group of Portugese envoys who reached Ethiopia in the 1520s. One of them, Alvares, wrote a detailed account of his travels which provided a useful source for Ortelius, who published his map of the region in 1573. Our map of the Empire of Prester John was first published in this form by Janssonius in the 1630s, derived from his father-in-law Hondius’ map of 1606 which in turn was heavily influenced by Ortelius’ map. Petrus Schenk and Gerard Valk often worked in partnership, towards the end of the Dutch Golden Age, when the United Provinces still led Europe in the field of map-making. Together they purchased the surviving copper printing plates of the famous Janssonius firm, among others, and reissued them under their own imprint.