Map of Utopia

Around 1595–1596, the famous Antwerp cartographer Abraham Ortelius imagined a map of the imaginary island that Thomas More had described in this work Utopia. Printed in just twelve examples in Antwerp, today only one copy remains. It is this work that has been acquired by the King Bedouin Foundation and returned to its original home.

The King Baudouin Foundation was able to buy the map, engraved on copper, thanks to the Charles Vreeken Fund. This Fund has as its objective to enrich the collections of Belgian museums with masterpieces of our national heritage.

The map is unparalleled, hence its iconic status. Ortelius took his inspiration from the famous work Utopia or the Treaty on the Best Form of Government, written in large part in 1515 (in Latin) by the English lawyer and statesman Thomas More (1477–1535), during his stay in Antwerp as part of a diplomatic mission. In this biting satire on England and the Europe of his time, the famous humanist described the ideal and imaginary island of Utopia, a place governed entirely by reason. Egoism is forbidden on the island. In 1516, the book’s appearance challenged the way of thinking about the ideal society and it became the most influential book ever to be written in the former Netherlands. It was to become the starting point for the development of Modernism.

After beginning his career as a colourist, Abraham Ortelius (1527–1598) became a map maker and then humanist. He quickly became one of the most frequently seen visitors to the Plantin-Moretus printing house, which printed most of his atlases.

The engraving is now on show for everyone to enjoy at the Plantin-Moretus Museum in Antwerp.

Material / technique: 
Copper engraving
380 x 475 mm
Type of acquisition: 
Acquired by the Charles Vreeken Fund
Year of acquisition: 
Depository institution: 
Plantin-Moretus Museum, Antwerp