“Islandia”. Antwerp c. 1592. Handcoloured engraving. 424×523 mm. Unframed.
Ortelius' map of Iceland is the first relatively accurate map of Iceland from indigenous sources.
The map depicts Iceland in remarkable detail, including its mountains, fiords or inlets, glaciers and a graphic depiction of Mount Hekla erupting in a fiery explosion of flames and volcanic material. Along part of the coastline, polar bears can be seen floating on icebergs and it illustrates a remarkable array of the legendary and mythical sea monsters and creatures of the 15th and 16th century, along with early depictions of the sea horse, walrus and whale. Over 200 place names are mentioned, primarily Danish in origin and many of which are likely misread from the original map, owing to the different writing style employed in Iceland during the period.
The map is a vast improvement over all prior maps of Iceland, and it is believed therefore that the map could only have been drawn by an Icelander, most likely Gudbrandur Thorlaksson, Bishop of Holar, who studied mathematics and astronomy in Copenhagen. It is known that Thorlaksson made a map of the region in 1606. While no map of Iceland by Thorlaksson survives, there is other circumstantial evidence, including a list of churches and fjords which was available and perhaps prepared by Thorlaksson, which were almost certainly used in preparing the map. While the map is far from accurate, it shows for the first time a meaningful depiction of all known settlements on Iceland and many other points of interest, including a number of glaciers.