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Cartographica Helvetica


Markus Heinz and Cornelia Reiter:

'Asiae descriptio' and the Last Judgement

Cartographica Helvetica 17 (1998) 25–31


A copper plate engraved with Abraham Ortelius' Asia wall map from 1567 was recently found on the back of an oil painting showing the Last Judgement. The painting is dated 1608 but is unsigned. It is typical of an Antwerp artist, probably a member of the well-known Francken and Lisaert family.

Though treated with a hammer, the plate has engraved lines identical with those on the only existing copy of the map in the Public Library of the University of Basel. This wall map of Asia, the first we know of, was compiled by Ortelius, who based his work on three maps by Gastaldi and on new material for certain regions (e.g. Japan, Northern Russia). The re-use of an old engraved plate as a surface for a painting was probably commercially motivated. It led to the survival of one more very rare cartographic copper plate originating from a private map-publishing enterprise.

Around 1600, Flemish artists, among them different members of the Francken family, often used copper to paint on. Ortelius' own art collection was depicted by the most important of them, Frans Francken II. This relationship between map-printing and painting sheds some light on the character of Abraham Ortelius: a famous cartographer, as well as an educated man and art collector with more than one friend among the Antwerp painters of the late 16th century.

Bibliographic note

  • Also published as: Asiae Descriptio and the Judgement Day painting: an example of secondary use of an Ortelius copper plate. In: Abraham Ortelius and the first atlas: essays commemorating the Quadricentennial of his death, 1598–1998. ed. Marcel van den Broecke, Peter van der Krogt, Peter Meurer. 't Goy-Houten, 1998. pp. 125–131.

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