"Aethiopia Superior vel Interior vulgo Abissinorum sive Presbiteri Ioannis Imperium", Merian, Matthaus
Subject: Central Africa
Period: 1650 (circa)
Color: Hand Color
14.6 x 11.3 inches
37.1 x 28.7 cm
Decorative map of eastern and central Africa depicting the legendary Christian kingdom of Prester John. It is based on an earlier map by Blaeu with a fair amount of detail on the eastern coast, reflecting colonial trading interests. The Nile is shown originating in the twin Ptolemaic lakes of Zaire and Zaflan. The map is decorated with a title cartouche surrounded by native figures and a decorative scale of miles, while in the interior elephants, ostriches and a monkey roam.
The legend of Prester John began about 1150 A.D. when rumor spread throughout Europe that there was a powerful Christian kingdom in Asia that had defeated the enemies of Christianity at a time when there were tremendous Mongol and Islamic pressures on Europe. Several popes attempted to contact the mysterious Priest-King but the kingdom was never located in Asia. The popular fancy was not easily dispelled, and the myth was simply moved to Africa and the legend persisted. Abraham Ortelius was the first to devote a map to the mysterious kingdom and it was a standard map of central Africa throughout the seventeenth century.