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1598 map of East Africa with the mythical kingdom of Prester John.

Place/Date: Antwerp / 1598
Title: Presbiteri Iohannis, sive, Abissinorum Imperii Descriptio
44 x 37.6 cm (17.4 x 14.8 in)
Hand color
Condition Rating


This iconic map depicts the central African kingdom of Prester John, the mythical Christian priest-king who, according to legend, provided a bulwark against Barbarians and was an ally to the Crusaders. Ortelius designed this map himself using geographical information including Gastaldi’s 1564 map of Africa.

The map shows mythical twin lakes of Zaire and Zaflan as the origin of the Nile, with the Mountains of the Moon located as the source of the lakes. Two pairs of large elephants appear in the interior, and sea monsters and an Arabic ship (dhow) are depicted in the Atlantic.

Two large strapwork cartouches balance the sheet, one enclosing the title and the other with text of the legend. The dedication is to King David, with a long genealogy tracing Prester John’s lineage back to that of the Biblical king.

Verso Text: French


Abraham Ortelius

Abraham Ortelius (1527 – 1598) was a cartographer and geographer, conventionally recognized as the creator of the first modern atlas, the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (Theatre of the World). He was one of the most notable figures of the Dutch school of cartography during its golden age (approximately 1570s–1670s).

Condition Description

A nice impression with original color on watermarked paper. There is light toning and some remnants of paper tape along the centerfold on verso.


Norwich #11; Van den Broecke #175.

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