Detailed map of Venezuela.
The Blaeu Family: The Leading Cartographers of the 17th Century
Willem Jansz Blaeu (1571-1638) was, more than any other figure, responsible for the ascension of Dutch cartography to a globally dominant position. Blaeu, originally from Alkmaar, north of Amsterdam, got his start while serving as an apprentice to the legendary Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe at his observatory of Uranienborg, from 1594 to 1596.
Upon Willem’s return to the Netherlands, he started a business making charts, globes and nautical instruments. His timing was impeccable, as the Dutch economy, based on maritime trade, was booming and there was an insatiable demand for high quality sea charts and nautical kit. Notably, in 1596, the Dutch made their first voyage to the East Indies, which led the establishment of the Dutch East India Company in 1602. The VOC would be one of Blaeu’s anchor clients and in 1633 he was appointed the Company’s official hydrographer.
Blaeu’s sea atlas of European waters, Het Licht der Zee-vaert (1608) was revolutionary, being the first broadly accurate maritime atlas. He went on to create magnificent wall maps, large-format charts and eventually terrestrial atlases, all decorated with the finest Dutch Baroque artistry. In particular, the Pascaarte van alle de Zecusten van Europa (1621) helped to establish Blaeu’s supremacy in the highly competitive Dutch cartography market.
Towards the end of his life, Willem Blaeu published the Atlas Novus (1635), a grand production that would be progressively expanded to include new volumes featuring all of the known world in unprecedented detail. The work featured numerous maps, exemplified by the present map, based on carefully selected sources and designed in the finest manner of the contemporary Dutch Baroque style. They became iconic works of cartography readily recognizable to generations of observers. The Atlas Novus and its successor publications were issued in 5 languages and became the most commercially successful works of their kind, setting a new standard for map publishing, emulated by cartographers across Europe.
Joan Blaeu (1598-1673) was the most successful mapmaker in the world in the mid-17th Century, during the apogee of Dutch cartography and the fortunes of the Dutch Republic. While he inherited a splendid enterprise from his father Willem, he managed to dramatically grow and expand the business to new heights. His greatest achievement was the world’s largest and most sumptuous atlas, the Atlas Maior, an 11-12 volume Baroque masterpiece (and successor to the Atlas Novus), in which editions of the present map appeared.
The Blaeu firm flourished until its workshop was destroyed in a fire in 1672, ending almost three generations of hegemony over the map market. While many would try to emulate the Blaeu’s success, this was never accomplished, and the Blaeu name stands alone at the fore of the Golden Age of Dutch cartography.