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Abraham Ortelius Map of Southeast Asia

Abraham Ortelius Map of Southeast Asia

Abraham Ortelius Map of Southeast Asia

The Abraham Ortelius Map of Southeast Asia created in 1570 shows the Malay Peninsula as an elongated extension of mainland Southeast Asia. Modern-day Singapore is depicted and labelled as “Cincapura”. This map is illustrated with mermaids and imaginary sea monsters.

The mapmaker was Abraham Ortelius, a Flemish cartographer, and geographer recognised as the creator of the first modern atlas, the “Theatrum Orbis Terrarum” or “Theatre of the World”. Ortelius was one of the founders of the Netherlandish school of cartography during the Duch Golden Age. He is also believed to be the first person to imagine that the continents were joined together before drifting to their present positions.

This map represents the best information on Southeast Asia and the East Indian Islands, at that time. It integrates the information from Italian, Portuguese and Spanish sources. The map is a ‘milestone’ map in the cartography of Southeast Asia and the East Indian Islands. Interesting features on the map include:

  • The title of this map is ‘Indiae Orientalis Insularumque Adiacentium Typus’ meaning “East Indies and surrounding islands”.
  • The Portuguese coat-of-arms are shown. Symbolic of the dominant influence of the Portuguese in the region.
  • A banner promotes the Moluccan Islands for the “export fragrant spices all over the world.”
  • The map of Japan is distorted into the “kite-shaped” introduced by Gerardus Mercator, a German-Flemish cartographer of the period.
  • Fearsome sea monsters attack a disabled ship off the shore of America
  • Two mermaids comb their hair with sea-shell hand mirrors
  • Singapore is shown as “Cincapura,” Siam as “Sian” and Cambodia as “Camboia.”
  • The Ptolemaic great southern continent of “Beach, pars continentis Australis” is shown below Java Major
  • The map of New Guinea states that “Andreas Corsalus names this land Piccinaculi, and whether it is an island or part of a southern continent is unknown.”
  • China is shown without a Korean peninsula
  • Ortelius follows Mercator’s influence by placing the mythical Lake Chyamai northeast of India and displaying it as the source of many rivers.

Abraham Ortelius

Abraham Ortelius (1527 – 1598) was a cartographer and geographer, recognised as the creator of the first modern atlas. The publication of his atlas in 1570 is often considered as the official beginning of the Golden Age of Netherlandish cartography.

Ortelius’s Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, in 1570 was the “first modern atlas” of 53 maps. Most of the maps were reproductions, and a list of 87 authors is given by Ortelius himself, growing to 183 names in the 1601 edition. Errors, of course, abounded, both in general conceptions and in detail, however, each significant edition brought corrections. Yet, taken as a whole this atlas, with its accompanying text was a monument of considerable illumination and revelation of our geographic world over 500 years ago.

Ortelius was the first to highlight the geometrical similarity between the coasts of America and Europe-Africa, and to propose continental drift as an explanation. Ortelius in his work Thesaurus Geographicus, suggested that the Americas were:

“torn away from Europe and Africa … by earthquakes and floods” … “The vestiges of the rupture reveal themselves if someone brings forward a map of the world and considers carefully the coasts of the three [continents].”

Originals of Ortelius’s maps are keenly sought collectors’ items.

Abraham Ortelius Map of Southeast Asia

  • Title:             Abraham Ortelius Map of Southeast Asia
  • Author:        Abraham Ortelius ( 1527 – 1598)
  • Dates:          1570
  • Type:            Chart Map
  • Material:      Paper
  • Museum:    National Museum of Singapore

Reflections

  • Europeans best understanding of Southeast Asia 550 years ago.

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Explore Singapore’s Museums

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 “Maps encourage boldness.
They’re like cryptic love letters.
They make anything seem possible.”
– Mark Jenkins

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Photo Credit: GM

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