Leen Helmink Antique Maps

Central Africa by Ortelius

Cartographer

Ortelius

Title

PRESBITERI IOHANNIS sive ABISSINORUM IMPERII

Published

Antwerp, 1573

Size

37.2 x 43.7 cms

Technique

Copper engraving

Stock number

18611

Condition

excellent

Price

$ 1500

Description

Ortelius' map of the kingdom of the legendary Prester John.

"Many stories as early as the year 1122 centred on Prester John, who was thought to have been a Tartar chief converted to Christianity, ruling somewhere in the East beyond Armenia and Persia. As a great warrior, all-powerful in Asia, his help was sought as an ally by the Crusaders in their attempts to free Jerusalem from the Saracens. Stories of his existence were taken so literally that emissaries and letters were despatched to him on a number of occasions by the Popes; the travels of Marco Polo and others, in their search for his Kingdom, led directly to the re-establishment of links with China and other Eastern lands.

Later legends placed Prester John in Abyssinia or Central Africa, an idea which influenced not a little the Kings of Portugal in their efforts to penetrate the Indian Ocean, and by linking up with the mythical Kingdom, to outflank the power of Islam. Ortelius' map of 1573 entitled 'A Representation of the Empire of Prester John, or of the Abyssynians', showing Africa from the Mediterranean to the Mountains of the Moon, placed well below the Equator, is a splendid illustration of the ideas current even in the sixteenth century."

(Moreland & Bannister).


"By 1573 Ortelius had constructed for his 'Theatrum' a new map of eastern and central Africa: 'A representation of the empire of the empire of Prester John, or, of the Abyssinians'. An inset panel gives a 17-line list of the grand titles that define David, the current Prester John and successor of the original, whose descent was supposed to be traceable back to Solomon. He was the Prester John sought by popes and kings of the Middle Ages, who hopes to find this legendary Christian priest-emperor first in India or Asia, then, later, in Africa. The Portuguese eventually identified him with the kings of Abyssinia (the Portuguese name, derived from the Arabic, for what the ancients called - as we do - 'Ethiopia).

One Portuguese traveler, a priest named Fransisco Alvares, spent six years in Abyssinia (from 1520 to 1526). He wrote about David and his isolated empire, where, to prevent civil war, the sons of the Prester were 'kept shut up in a mountain ... except the first-born, the heir.' Deep within the Prester's mountains, Ortelius shows the Nile rising from Lakes Zaire and Zaflan: 'There are tritons and sirens in this lake', reads a legend in one of them.

(Tooley & Bricker).


"Title:
PRESBITERI/IOHANNIS, SI:/VE, ABISSINO:/RVM IMPERII/DESCRIPTIO.
<= A representation of <the country of> Prester Iohn, or the Empire of the Abessinians>.

Frame in upper left with 17 lines of text:

DAVID SVPREMVS MEORVM REGORVM, A/DEO VNICE DILECTVS, COLVMNA FIDEI,/ ORTVS EX STIRPE IVDA, FILIVS DAVID,/ FILIVS SALOMONIS, FILIVS COLVMNAE/SIONIS, FILIVS EX SEMINE IACOB, FILIVS/ MANVS MARIAE, FILIVS NAHV SECVNDV/CARNEM, FILIVS SANCTORVM PETRI ET/ PAVLI SECVNDVM GRATIAM; IMPERATOR/ SVPERIORIS ET MAIORIS AETHIOPIAE,ET/ AMPLISSIMORVM REGNORVM IVRISDIC:/ TIONVM ET TERRARVM; REX GOAE, CAFFA:/ TES, FATIGAR, ANGOTAE, BARV, BALIGVANZAE,/ ADEAE, VANGVAE, GOIAMAE, VBI NILI FONTES,/ AMARAE, BANGVAMEDRI, AMBEAE, VANGVCI,/ TIGREMAHON, SABAIM PATRIAE REGINAE SA:/ BAE,BARNAGASSI; ET DOMINVS VSQVE IN NV:/ BIAM QVAE IN AEGYPTVM EXTENDITVR.

<= King David is the highest of my Kings, <I, Presbyterius Ioannes>, specially chosen by God, pillar of faith, born from the tribe of Judah, son of David, son of Salomon, son of the pillar of Zion, son from the seed of Jacob, son of the hand of Maria, son of Nahum's flesh, son of the holy Peter and Paul in mercy, Emperor of upper and great Æthiopia, and of the legal grounds and countries of the most elevated kingdoms; King of Goa, Caffates, Fatigar, Angota, Baru, Balinguanza, Adea, Vangua, Goiama where the Nile has its source, of Amara, Banguamedrum, Ambea, Vangucum, Tigremahon, of Saba, homeland of the Queen of Saba, of Barnagassum and Lord of all of Namibia, extending all the way to Egypt>.

Remarks: Priest John is a mythical king with a long cartographic history, who was supposed to provide a stronghold against the Barbarians, and to be an ally for crusaders. His kingdom was originally surmised to have been located in India (for instance by Waldseemüller in 1507), but was later placed in Africa (Gemma Frisius-Ptolemy 1522). "

(Van den Broecke).