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Editions >> Atlas >> What is an Atlas?

Most students of the history of cartography attribute the emergence of the modern atlas to the Flemish publisher, colorist, and antiquary Abraham Ortelius (Abraham Ortels), with the 1570 appearance of the landmark volume, Theatrum Orbis Terrarum.[8][C. Koeman, G. Schilder, M. Egmond, and P. van der Krogt, "Commercial Cartography in the Low Countries, 1500-ca. 1672,"in Cartography in the European Renaissance: Part 2, Vol. 3 of The History of Cartography, ed. Woodward, 1296-1383(Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2007). Also see M. P. R. van den Broecke, Ortelius Atlas Maps: An Illustrated Guide (‘Goy-Houten, Netherlands: HES Publishers, 1996).] This atlas was, however, many years in preparation—the result of a large group of skilled cartographers, engravers, and craftsmen—and was influenced by several decades of preceding intellectual thought.[9][Karrow, 1-31. Abraham Ortelius—Örtel, Ortels, Hortel, Bartolus, Bartholus Arameis.] One early forerunner of the modern, printed atlas was the bound groups of manuscript portolan charts, issued in the early to mid-fifteenth century by Venetian chartmaker Giacomo Giroldi (Jacobus de Giroldis).[10][Akerman, 5.] These generally contained only three to six manuscript charts. Another example of an early atlas was Johannes Stumpf's Landtafeln, sometimes called the earliest national atlas, which was first issued in 1548 and consisted of twelve maps and a title page, with no text.[11][Karrow, 510-516. Johannes Stumpf—Hanns Stumpff.] Any number of other examples might be discussed, including the Catalan Atlas of 1375,[12][G. Grosjean, Mapamundi: The Catalan Atlas of the Year 1375 (Dietikon-Zurich: Urs Graf Verlag, 1978). This is a full color facsimile of the original, held by La Bibliothèque nationale de France. The facsimile was reviewed by T. Campbell, Imago Mundi 33 (1981): 115-116.] Jean Rotz's 1542 Boke of Idrography done for Henry VIII,[13][H. Wallis, The Maps and Text of the Boke of Idrography Presented by Jean Rotz to Henry VII: Now in the British Library (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981). In addition to a full-color facsimile, there are 93 pages of text (including index) detailing the background of Rotz's atlas.] or the Lafreri-Salamanca bound volumes of maps discussed above. The variability of the many print editions of Ptolemy's famous Geographia, first published with twenty six maps in Bologna in 1477, is discussed elsewhere.[14][Patrick Gautier Dalché, "The Reception of Ptolemy's Geography (End of the Fourteenth to Beginning of the Sixteenth Century),"in Cartography in the European Renaissance: Part 1, Vol. 3 of The History of Cartography, ed. Woodward, 285-364 (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2007). Appendix 9.1 on pp. 361-364 gives an extensive list of all known editions from 1475-1650.] By the time of Ortelius' 1570 landmark atlas, nearly thirty editions of Geographia had been published, with as many as sixty four copperplate engraved maps appearing in Giuseppe Moleti's 1564 Latin edition, published in Venice. Abraham Ortelius certainly fit the emerging example of editorial control over the final published product, but he did not make many of the maps in his atlas.[15][Van den Broecke, 22, plus list of cartographical sources for all the Ortelius atlas maps; Karrow, 1-31 on Ortelius (although the entire book reflects on this subject). See also P. Meurer, Fontes Cartographici Orteliani: Das "Theatrum Orbis Terrarum"von Abraham Ortelius und Seine Kartenquellen (Weinheim: VCH Acta Humaniora, 1991). Muerer's work is reviewed by F. Hebert, Imago Mundi 45 (1993): 151.] He was responsible, however, for the relative uniformity of composition and appearance of the maps, and a good bit of text still appeared in conjunction with various editions. Mercator exercised much tighter control in all phases of his cartographic work.[16][Akerman, 29-34.]

There is a fundamental problem when trying to impose modern conceptual demands for the nature of an atlas on the practices of the past. It is worth noting that our modern concept of "editor,"derived from the French "editer," was not clearly present in these earlier times. It was only in late eighteenth century France that this word came into wider use as a functional concept.[17][M. S. Pedley, "‘Commode, Complet, Uniforme, et Suivi': Problems in Atlas Editing in Enlightenment France,"in Editing Early and Historical Atlases: Papers Given at the Twenty-Ninth Annual Conference on Editorial Problems, ed. Joan Winearls, 83-108 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1995). The specific remarks concerning the term "editer"are on pp. 83-84.] The business infrastructure of the seventeenth- and much of eighteenth-century French book-trade precluded the development of an atlas rigorously standardized to the level of the three point definition discussed earlier. Most period publishers of the atlases of these times were print engravers or sellers, and their ability to publish books of maps depended on available investment capital and the ability to successfully market their wares.[18][Pedley, 84.]

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