Africae tabula nova.
This is the standard map of Africa for the last quarter of the sixteenth century. Ortelius lived and died in Antwerp, where he had a bookselling business. He traveled to many of the great book fairs, established contacts with literati in many countries, collected maps, and became an authority on historical cartography. In 1570 he published the Theatrum, an atlas of fifty-three maps, the first collection of uniform-sized maps depicting all the countries of the known world — the first real atlas. Each map had text on the back describing the country depicted and listing Ortelius’s sources of information. The atlas was phenomenally successful and revered, printed in many editions in seven languages for more than forty years (1570-1612), with an ever increasing number of maps.
This map comes from a 1584 edition of the atlas, though it still bears the 1570 date. Here, Africa assumes a more recognizable shape, with a more pointed southern cape. Ortelius uses the Ptolemaic sources of the Nile, two large lakes, but places them farther south. The Niger now empties into the Atlantic Ocean. The “Zanzibar” coastland is featured on the west side, as it is called (Ortelius notes) by Persian and Arab authors, but the island of Zanzibar is correctly placed off the east coast. Madagascar appears, as do the place-names of numerous towns along the coasts and in the interior, although large empty spaces begin to dominate there. No animal or plant life is indicated, but the oceans contain swordfish and a whale. Three ships in the lower right are caught in the smoke of battle.
Beautifully designed and engraved, the map represents a high mark of 16th-century mapmaking.