Leen Helmink Antique Maps

Scandinavia by Ortelius




Septentrionalium Regionum Descrip.


Antwerp, 1570


36.0 x 48.7 cms


Copper plate engraving

Stock number





$ 3250


Myths and legends: Ortelius' rendering of Scandinavia and the North Atlantic based on Olaus Magnus 1539 map, Zeno's 1558 map and on Mercator's 1569 wall map of the world.

Ortelius includes much of the spectacular "Zeno" map of the North Atlantic after the map in a 1558 travel book about a (false?) voyage in 1380 to these areas by Nicolò and Antonio Zeno. That map introduces many new fictitious islands in great detail like "Frisland" (with 32 places and capes named!), "Deogeo", "Estotiland", "Estland", and the monastery of "S. Tomas" in Greenland. Many of these lovely products of imagination remained on maps for centuries, mainly because Gerard Mercator accepted it as authentic and adopted much of it in his famous large 1569 world map and his 1595 map of the North Pole. Ortelius in turn used the map as a prototype for his map of the North Atlantic. Frobisher and Davis accepted the map for their explorations in the 1570's and 1580's, respectively.

"In his preface Ortelius only mentions Olaus Magnus as a cartographical reference. When both maps are compared, there appear to be some similarities (the configuration of Scandinavia and of Finland, especially, and some topographical details, like the 'Lacus Albus', for instance. This conformity, however, is of a rather superficial nature. Ortelius undoubtedly also used other sources to prepare his maps."

(Mingroot - van Ermen).

"Ortelius' map of Scandinavia appears from the first edition onward. Among the sources in the 'Catalogus' for the Scandinavia map are Ziegler, Olaus Magnus, and Zeno [..].

Turning to the map itself, one can see the influence of both Magnus and Zeno, particularly in some of the mythical islands in the north Atlantic (e.g. Frisland). However, Estotiland is clearly on the mainland of America and may be associated with Labrador. In that case, the island of Drogeo may represent Newfoundland. Although the imaginary isle of Icaria remains, Estland has been removed. [..].

The plate of the SEP/TEN/TRI/ONA/LIVM RE/GIONVM/ DESCRIP. map was altered during the long life of the atlas as well. However, most of the changes are fairly modest. The only substantive modification occurred with the 1592 Latin edition, when eight place names were added to the polar island north of the Scandinavian peninsula."


"A number of mythical islands appear in the North Atlantic; Drogeo, however, is believed to represent Newfoundland. The mainland of America is depicted in the north-west with the placename Estotiland."


"This is one of the most remarkable maps in the 'THEATRUM' in that it displays a mixture of exact observation and fantasy. Although Scandinavia is somewhat boldly drawn, it represents, nevertheless, the best available knowledge of the region taken from the famous map by Olaus Magnus (1539). In Norway we find an enormously enlarged Trondheim fiord. In Finland, the Gulf of Finland is erroneous and large lakes are shown in the North. Sweden is too thick and has a strange lake in Lapland. To the fantastic elements belong the 'Northland' in the Arctic Ocean with the remarkable annotation: 'Pigmei hic habitant', a 'Groclandt' (as well as a Greenland) with the cities of 'Alba' and 'St. Thomas' on the 75th parallel, and the mythical islands of 'Frisland', 'St. Brandain', 'Drogeo' and 'Podalia'.

The island of Frisland in particular, with its many cities, causes surprise. It would appear that learned cartographers such as Mercator and Ortelius accepted this island on the authority of Nicolò Zeno, the Venetian, which was published in 1558 by Francesco Marcolini. This map accompanied an account, reconstructed by Nicolò Zeno, of the voyages of exploration in the Northern Atlantic said to have been undertaken by his ancestors. The genuineness of Zeno's account is highly suspect. What is remarkable, however, is that the island of Frisland continued to be shown on maps until the middle of the seventeenth century."


"An interesting map of the Northern Regions showing many non-existent islands including Brasil and St Brendan's Island and a note in the Arctic stating that 'Pigmys live here'."

(Moreland & Bannister).

"Where better to start than by looking at the mythical island of Hy Brazil which appeared out in the Atlantic to the west of Ireland in charts as early as 1325, in the famous Catalan Atlas dated 1375 and, subsequently, on numerous maps for the next 200 years, including Waldseemüller's map of the British Isles issued at Strassburg in 1513 and its later editions. It was also shown on Toscanelli's chart dated about 1457 which was said to have been used by Columbus on his first voyage. Early Celtic legends say that the island only appeared at sunset in the mists of the Atlantic and they called it 'the blessed stormless isle, where all men are good and all the women pure and where God retreats for a recreation from the rest of us'.

To add to our confusion these early charts depicted not only Brazil off the coast of Ireland but also St Brendan's Island far out in the ocean half way to Zipangu (Japan). We can imagine the Irish monk, St Brendan, setting sail sometime in the sixth century on a seven-year voyage in search of this paradise and arriving, according to one version, in the Fortunate Isles (the Canaries), then the limit of the known world. According to other interpretations he reached not only the Hebrides and the Faroes but even America. It is hard to believe that as late as the eighteenth century seamen were still seeking these islands, and so often had Brazil been 'sighted' that geographers were reluctant to abandon the possibility of its existence; in fact it was not finally removed from British Admiralty charts until the 1870s. The Celts were not alone in their belief in the existence of an earthly paradise in the Western Ocean; the Greeks too, among others, imagined these 'Isles of the Blest' beyond the Pillars of Hercules which legend claimed were 'peopled not by the dead but by mortals on whom the Gods had conferred immortality' and where there was perpetual summer and abundance."

(Moreland & Bannister).

"Het hier afgebeelde deel van de wereldkaart van Gerard Merator, te weten het noordelijk deel van de Atlantische Oceaan met de noordelijkste delen van Europa en Amerika, Groenland en een gedeelte van het Poolgebied is interessant omdat juist deze kaart een grote bijdrage heeft geleverd aan de verspreiding van een aantal aperte misvattingen over de geografie van het gebied ten noordoosten van Ierland. Deze onjuistheden vinden hun oorsprong in een verdichte beschrijving van de reizen van de Venetiaanse gebroeders Nicolo en Antonio Zeno, die gemaakt zouden zijn aan het eind van de veertiende eeuw. Kort voor Mercator zijn kaart publiceerde werden deze reisbeschrijvingen, met daarbij een kaart van het betreffende gebied, gedateerd 1380, in Venetië uitgegeven, waarbij de Venetianen de ontdekking van Amerika opeisten.

Ongelukkigerwijs was Mercator van mening dat de kaart op waarnemingen berustte en schonk de vermeende veertiende eeuwse 'Zeno kaart' het gewicht van zijn gezag. Hij ontleende er gegevens over het noordelijk deel van de Atlantische Oceaan aan en verwerkte ze in zijn kaart van dat gebied. Zo verscheen het niet bestaande eiland Friesland ten zuiden van IJsland, ten westen van Ierland de eilanden Brasil (!) en S. Brandain, verwijzend naar de Ierse geestelijke. Ook verscheen voor de eerste maal de mysterieuze naam 'Estotiland' op het vasteland van Amerika, die ook later nog wel door kaartenmakers gebruikt is."

(Putman on this area on Mercator's 1569 wall map of the world).

"In this map, the North Atlantic is littered with mythical islands, some traceable to the Zeno legend. In 1558 Marcolino published a book by Nicolò Zeno in which the "discovery" of several of these islands was noted. The book was allegedly a compilation of northern voyages by Zeno's ancestor made over a hundred years earlier. Zeno himself edited this map for Ruscelli's geography. The information on this map was used later by Ortelius in his map of the northern regions of the Atlantic.

Among the mythical islands shown, Frisland in particular had a long cartographic life. Many later maps continued to show it, some with exquisite detail and even locating its capitol city.

This map shows some famous cartographical misconceptions. Along with maps showing California as an island, the Prester John maps of Africa, the wonderful Schlaraffenland and perhaps the Kircher map of Atlantis, this map should be part of the backbone of an collection of maps of mythical geography."

(Manasek on the Ruscelli Zeno map).