Leen Helmink Antique Maps

Japan by Ortelius




Iaponia Insulae Descriptio


Antwerp, 1595


35.8 x 48.6 cms


Copper engraving

Stock number





$ 4750


Influential map of Japan, based on the work of the Jesuit Ludovico Teixeira. The map is the first reasonably accurate and recognizable European depiction of Japan and was to remain the standard for more than half a century. Little was known of this mythical and remote island. Korea is shown as an island. Three decorative ships and two cartouches. The verso text is derived from Maffei's accounts of the Far East. Quoting verbatim from the 1606 English edition:

"Upon the East it is opposite to New-Spaine [Mexico], remote from it not above 150 leagues" and "The country for the most part is full of snow all the yeare long" but also "They have many orders and lawes of feasting and drinking, which are performed very curiouslie & with strange and exquisite ceremonies. They have no manner of wine, nor vines amongst them. A kind of artificiall wine they make and presse out of rise: yet they are especially delighted, more than with any other kind of liquor, to drink water almost scalding hot, putting it into the powder of an hearb they call Chia, ..".

"A new epoch in Western cartography of Japan begins with the inclusion of this map in the 'Theatrum'. Ortelius had received it along with a map of China in a letter of 20 February 1592 from the Portuguese Jesuit and mathematician Luis Teixeira, who was the cartographer to the court of the Spanish king. Texeira, who himself had never been to Asia, let alone Japan, informed Ortelius that he had copied this new map, which he had just received, without alteration. The actual author, then, clearly had direct or indirect knowledge of Japanese sources, since the map contains information that the Europeans could not have obtained from their own experience at this time. Honshu, Kyushu, and Shikoku are depicted with approximately correct proportions for the first time. The strict east-west orientation of Honshu, as well as its overall form with, among other things, the exaggerated size of the Noto Peninsula, recall Japanese screens of the period. On the other hand, Kyushu and the wedge-shaped Shikoku resemble Portuguese models [...]. The Japanese influence is particularly clear in the choice of place-names. Eastern and northern Japan, in particular, are enlivened with names of places that the Portuguese had not yet visited at this time. On the other hand, many of the names that had frequently appeared hitherto, such as Osaka, Azuchiyama, and Yamaguchi, are missing. Even Nagasaki is only referred to as 'Bungo'. Finally, characteristic of the type established by Teixeira, which was to find many imitators, is Korea's appearance as an island tapering to a point toward the south."

(Walter OAG 19).

"The first map of Japan published in a European atlas."

(Moreland & Bannister).

"Although as early as 1617 the more accurate map of Japan by Blancus appeared, this map retained influence until more than 50 years after another milestone map of Japan appeared, viz. the Martini map of 1655."

(van den Broecke).