Boxwood plaquette Abraham Ortelius

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C. 1600
8.95 cm

G. van Loon, Beschryving der Nederlandsche Historipenningen, deel I, Den Haag 1723, p. 514, 515.
D. Scheffer, 'Kleinplastische Holzporträts' in: Die Kunstkammer der Herzöge von Württemberg, Landesmuseum Württemberg, Stuttgart 2017, pp. 666 - 670.

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A beautiful carved and rare boxwood plaque depicting Abraham Ortelius (1527-1598). The front of the plaque resembles the bronze commemorative medal, which was minted in 1598 by Jacques Jonghelinck in memory of Ortelius. Both the Teylers Museum and the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam have this bronze medal in their collection. There is a good possibility that this plaque is a preliminary study for the manufacture of the bronze medal, given its obvious resemblance. The back of the palmwood medal is smooth. The front side of the neck bears the signature F.S., for the not yet known maker.

This portrait was probably a collector's item, included in a cabinet of curiosities or collection. In sixteenth and seventeenth-century Europe, collectors (wealthy citizens and royalty) filled their cabinets of curiosities with collections of naturalia, artificialia, exotica and scientifica, driven and inspired by objects from new worlds, scientific and geographic discoveries, and a renewed interest in antiquity. In addition, medals and coins were sought-after collector's items, and references to well-known collectors gave their cabinet of curiosities an extra dimension: this boxwood medal, with an image of the famous cartographer, geographer and collector Abraham Ortelius, most likely had a place in such a collection.

The Antwerp Ortelius is mainly known for his publication of the first modern world atlas, the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, in 1570. He was the first to print a commercial atlas in a uniform style, consisting of both maps and text. The Theatrum Orbis Terrarum was a huge success and Ortelius' design became the standard for the world atlases published after him. In addition to his geographic and cartographic work, Ortelius was also an avid collector of medals and coins, among other things. In 1573 he published the Deorum dearumque capita: ex antiquis numismatibus Abrahami Ortelii geographi regis collection, a book about his antique coins collection. The Beschryving der Nederlandsche Historipenningen from 1723 states about the bronze commemorative medal of Ortelius, resembling this palmwood plaque: ‘en zyne gedachtenis onder andere, als zynde een byzonder Liefhebber der penningen, ook op deezen gedenkpenning bewaar’, which present Ortelius as a collector of medals and coins.

Portraits of Ortelius were collected for art rooms, as can be seen in the painting ‘Room of Art and Curiosities’ (1636) by Frans II Francken, in the Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien (inv. GG_1048). On the left corner of the table is a portrait of Abraham Ortelius, amidst a collection of art, curiosities and coins. On the painting, 'Interior of a cabinet of art and curiosities with Abraham Ortelius and Justus Lipsius' (private collection), also by Frans II Francken, Ortelius is even depicted sitting in the middle of an room filled with art and curiosities, talking and discussing with the presumed owner of the collection and with humanist, historiographer and philologist Justus Lipsius. 


Bronze commemorative medals:

Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, inv. NV-VG-1-519

Teylers Museum Haarlem, inv. TMNK 0042


Paintings Frans Francken (II) depicting Ortelius:

Kunsthistorische Museum Wien,  (inv. GG_1048)

Private collection, 'Interior of a collectors cabinet with A. Ortelius en Justus Lipsius


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