Considered the first true modern atlas, the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum contained a collection of maps and text written by the cartographer and geographer Abraham Ortelius and was originally printed in 1570. In 1575, Ortelius was appointed geographer to the King of Spain, Philip II (1527-1598), under whose employ he began working on his Parergon, a series of maps illustrating ancient history both sacred and secular. When the Parergon was published in 1624, it included a section on earthly paradises that travelers could strive to reach in search of rest, rejuvenation, and harmony. The first two plates represent lost paradises – the Temple of Thessaly at the foot of Mount Olympus and Daphne, a suburb of Antioch in Syria that the god Apollo was said to have loved – while the third plate, the last in the Parergon, reproduced one of Ortelius' engravings from 1591, showing a magnificent view of Philip II's palace, known as El Escorial (fig. 1).
Completed only a few years earlier, El Escorial was widely recognized as a dramatically modern architectural accomplishment and quickly became the focus of great admiration and curiosity. The greatest monument of the Counter Reformation in Spain, the Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial is the most enduring architectural achievement of Philip II, who devoted much of his reign to combating the Protestant tide that was sweeping through Europe in the 16th century. On the occasion of his victory at the Battle of St. Quentin against the French troops of Henri II on Saint Lawrence's Day (10 August 1577), Philip vowed to build a great palace in the Guadarrama Mountains, northwest of Madrid, dedicated to San Lorenzo. The building was to serve as a study center for members of the Order of Saint Jerome, and its architect was named as Juan Bautista de Toledo; however, on the architect's death 1567, Philip revised his plans for the complex and instead decided to erect a monument that could serve as a worthy burial place for his father, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (1500-1588), and house a magnificent art collection. After twenty years of construction, the new planning was entrusted to Juan de Herrera, and the building was at last completed in 1584.
Ortelius' print, probably based on Herrera's original drawings, added to the building's immediate and widespread renown, and it seems likely that De Caullery took his inspiration from the engraving that quickly became popular in the Netherlands. We are grateful to Ellis Dullaart of the RKD, The Hague, for confirming the attribution of the painting to de Caullery. Ms. Dullaart has suggested that the elegant figures in the foreground, as well as the painstaking design of the building and grounds were likely executed by De Caullery in their entirety, and leaves open the possibility that he enlisted some studio cooperation in the landscape and architectural elements.