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Cartography as Art and Science: 17th Century

Cartography as Art and Science: 17th Century

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Abraham Ortelius began his career as a scholar of mathematics, Greek, and Latin. He took up the trade of dealing in engraved maps, which he hand-colored. He was a friend of the influential geographer Geradus Mercator, for whom the Mercator map projection is named. Ortelius put together the first modern atlas, compiling 53 maps of the same scale and size with descriptive text on the verso into one volume. The atlas was titled Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (Theatre of the World) and was repeatedly reprinted and translated from Latin into Dutch, German, French, Spanish, and English. A world map and maps of the countries and provinces inside Europe, Africa, Asia, and America were included. Ortelius was also the first publisher to credit contemporary cartographers and geographers. In this way, he was a bibliographer of sorts, and brought household recognition to a number of contemporary cartographers. Thanks to the popularity of the Theatrum atlas, the locus of map production moved from Italy to the Lowlands. Ortelius’s maps reflect the burgeoning popular interest in the 15th century in historical geography and the Near East.


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Thomas Fuller was a 17th-century loyalist English clergyman, scholar, and writer known for his preaching and quick wit. A Pisgah Sight of Palestine was Fuller’s historical and geographical description of the Promised Land, written while he was under forced exile during Oliver Cromwell’s rule. The text details the Puritans’ attack on Fuller’s moderate religious views and tolerance of unorthodox groups. It contains a full-sized Holy Land map and double-page maps of the territory belonging to the 12 tribes. Fuller modeled his maps after Christian van Adrichom, a 16th century Dutch priest and surveyor, adding aesthetic touches with illustrations and decorative marks. A number of benefactors funded A Pisgah Sight of Palestine, as seen in the dedications on multiple pages.

This map shows the territory allotted to the tribe of Issachar, between the Mediterranean and the Jezreel valley in northern Palestine. According to some rabbinic interpretations of Genesis 49:14, the donkey at the bottom symbolizes the Tribe of Isaachar’s dedication to religious study. There are illustrations at locations mentioned in the prophetic writings: at Endor (Ein Dor) King Saul consults a necromancer who raises Samuel from the grave; at Jezreel Naboth refuses to sell a vineyard to King Ahab, and is falsely accused of blasphemy by Jezabel and condemned to death; at Megiddo the prophetess Devorah and General Barak are victorious over the Canaanite army of Sisra; at Shunem the prophet Elisha revives an only son from the dead; at Bethsan (Beth Shean) the Philistines hang the bodies of Saul and his sons after the Battle of Gilboa. The double circles point to Levitical cities, and the crowns indicate the seats of kings. The map was dedicated to Thomas Leigh, whose coat of arms is pictured at the upper left.


Nicolas Sanson was born in 1600 and heralded the 17th-century French dominance of the cartography trade. He caught the attention of the king’s advisor Cardinal Richelieu when he moved to Paris in 1627, thanks to a map he made of Gaul. Richelieu then helped Sanson be appointed “géographe ordinaire du Roy,” or geography tutor to the king, a position which he held from 1630 to 1665. Thanks to Sanson, King Louis XIV was a generous patron to French geographers and mapmakers. Sanson also passed his formidable skills onto his three sons, nephew, and grandson. They all worked for the Sanson publishing house in Paris, which thrived for close to 100 years. With Sanson, the center of mapmaking moved from the the Netherlands to France, and the craft took on more scientific methods, as detailed on the following page.

Geographiae Sacrae portrays most of the Mediterranean, focusing on the Holy Land and the Middle East. “Chanaan” is portrayed before the Jewish conquest. The inset in the lower left, entitled “Israelitarum Mansiones In Deserto,” or the stations of the Israelites in the desert, shows the Jewish people’s wanderings from Egypt to the Promised Land.



Advent of the Printing Press
17th Century
Towards a More Scientific Cartography
Map Listing


Palaestina (Terra Sancta)
by Abraham Ortelius
from Epitome Theatre Orteliani
Antwerp: Ambrose and Ferdinand Arsenius, 1601
Muriel Yale Collection, 2004-085


















by Thomas Fuller
from A Pisgah Sight of Palestine
London: John Williams, 1650
Muriel Yale Collection, 1997-005

Many thanks to Spertus Collections Curator Ilana Segal for the research done on this map.

























Geographiae Sacrae et Veteri et Novo Testamento desumptae, Tabula prima quae totius orbis partes continet
by Nicolas Sanson
Patavi (Padua):
Typographia Seminary, 1694
Muriel Yale Collection, 2000-122