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Sole surviving copy to be put on display at Plantin-Moretus Museum

Unique Ortelius map of Utopia in King Baudouin Foundation collection
Sole surviving copy to be put on display at Plantin-Moretus Museum

In a rare opportunity, the King Baudouin Foundation has acquired a late 16th-century map by the renowned cartographer Abraham Ortelius depicting Thomas More’s fictional island of Utopia. This unique work will be loaned on a long-term basis to the Plantin-Moretus Museum in Antwerp, where it will be put on prominent display.
Measuring 380 by 475 mm, the Utopia map is an important acquisition for the King Baudouin Foundation's collection and a valuable exhibit for the Plantin-Moretus Museum. It was produced by cartographer Abraham Ortelius in 1595-96 based on the book of the same name by the humanist Thomas More. Twelve copies were printed. However, the map now returning to the museum is the only copy known to survive worldwide. It has been on temporary display in the past, including at the ‘In Search of Utopia' exhibition at M-Museum Leuven in 2016, but will now form part of a permanent public collection.
The map was recently offered for sale by a private collector. The King Baudouin Foundation was able to acquire it for EUR 175 000.00 with money from the Charles Vreeken Fund, which the Foundation administers. This acquisition is fully compatible with the Foundation’s objective of acquiring, promoting and ensuring public access to masterpieces of Belgian heritage, in order to preserve this heritage for future generations. The Charles Vreeken Fund shares this objective, its aim being to acquire works that will substantially enhance the collections of Belgian museums.
Abraham Ortelius (1527-1598) began his career as a map colourist for Christoffel Plantijn before becoming a cartographer and humanist, and one of the leading authors associated with the Plantin Press, where the majority of his atlases were printed. He is best known as the inventor of the modern atlas. His Theatrum Orbis Terrarum of 1570 was the first time a group of maps had been assembled in a single format and style, predating the atlases of his contemporaries Gerard de Jode and Gerardus Mercator by several years. He succeeded in this endeavour thanks to his extensive knowledge and many contacts with scholars throughout Europe.
In designing his map of Utopia, Ortelius adhered faithfully and meticulously to the famous work by Thomas More, half of which was written in Antwerp in 1515 while More was on a diplomatic mission. A satire on the England and Europe of the time, it describes the ideal, imaginary island of Utopia, a country ruled exclusively by reason and where egoism is banished from private and public life. Ortelius could also be something of a social critic, as evidenced by a map of the world on which he quotes the Roman philosopher Seneca: Is this that pinpoint which is divided by sword and fire among so many nations? How ridiculous are the boundaries of mortals!
A high definition photo of the Utopia map can be obtained via
Photos and video rushes are available via : Utopia map, cartography room with Ortelius' portrait and atlas.
The Utopia map will be on display at the Plantin-Moretus Museum after a scenography change taking place end of October-beginning of November.
From dated 4 October 2018

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