China – China olim Sinarum regionis, nova descriptio

by Abraham Ortelius

Ming China, the first Western map


Date of first edition: 1584

Date of this map: 1609-1612

(this is the b variant of the map with “Las Philippinas” added above “SINUS MAGNUS”.

Dimensions (not including margins): 37 x 47 cm

Dimensions (including margins): 46 x 56,1 cm

Condition: Excellent. Sharp print on hard paper. Centre fold as published. Slight age-toning. Wide margins. Verso: traces of previous framing

Condition rating: A+

Verso: text in Latin

Map reference: Suarez (1999) “Early Mapping of South-East Asia”, Periplus, p. 164-170, Figure 88. ; Van den Broecke, 164; Nebenzahl, K. Mapping the Silk Road and Beyond 4.6; Tooley, Maps and Mapmakers, p. 106, pl. 78 (p. 108); Walter, L. Japan: A Cartographic Vision 11F, p. 186. Van der Krogt III, 8410:31; Bayton Williams New Worlds p. 41

From:  Theatrum Orbis Terrarum by J.B. Vrients; Van der Krogt III, 31:054-055, page 119

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Ortelius and Ming China

In 1584 Ortelius published this Chinae, olim Sinarum regionis, nova descriptio, the first modern map of (Ming) China, based on geographic information of Luis Jorge de Barbuda (ca. 1564 – ca. 1613), a Portuguese cartographer employed by the Spanish court, known by its Latin name as Ludovicus Georgius.

This map has been the guideline for decades to come, partly due to the description of the land which was based on information for Bernardo de Escalante. Both the map and the description were crucial to the China representations by Martino Martini sixty years later.

West to the top, one notices the following features:

  • The Chinese (Ming) Wall was more or less correctly shown. As we know this is only a part of the entire construction.
  • North of the Great Wall Ortelius mentions Desertum Dovisial; this is the Gobi desert. The Tartar “yurts” are dotted across the plains and steppes of Central and East Asia.
  • Other place names on the map are more difficult to identify. Macoa is clearly visible. Outside the traditional Ming China Ortelius places Chiama lacus, the lake that sources 5 rivers.
  • In the South Malaca and Bengala are recognizable. The islands of Cubo (Cebu), Mindanao and Borneo also have a somewhat strange geographic format.
  • West of China lies IA-PAN.