History in the Map-Making: One of the Finest Maps of England, Wales and Ireland Ever Created Dates from the Early 17th Century. Jonathan Potter Looks at the History of This Beautifully Detailed and Decorated Cartographic Gem. (Map of the Month)

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ANTIQUE MAPS OF THE BRITISH ISLES DO NOT SHOW THE VARIATION OF FORM COMMON TO maps of newly discovered parts of the world. Nevertheless, there have been some outstanding cartographic images produced of the islands. Johann Baptist Vrients' Angliae Et Hiberniae Accurata Descriptio, seen here, is certainly one of the finest maps of the early 17th century.

The map originally appeared in the great Theatrum Orbis Terrarum. Cartographers regard the Theatrum as the first `modern atlas'; the first cohesive grouping, by Abraham Ortelius, of the most up-to-date maps of all areas of the known world. First published in 1570 with just over 50 map plates, the atlas rapidly expanded so that, by Ortelius' death in 1598, it comprised almost 120 plates. The popularity of the atlas was such that during its publishing life over 40 editions were produced, with descriptive text in all the major European languages.

In 1601 the Antwerp publisher, Jan Baptist Vrients, took over publication of the Theatrum, and continued adding new map plates. One of the most distinctive plates was that depicted here, of England, Wales and Ireland. The map is immensely detailed, engraved to "... the highest standard with artistically placed sea monsters, galleons, a mermaid, Neptune, and other decorative features," according to Rodney W Shirley, in Early Printed Maps Of The British Isles. …