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Jan Blaeu: Britannia prout divisa fuit temporibus Anglo-Saxonum, praefertim durante illorum Heptarchia

Map: GB1914
Cartographer: Jan Blaeu
Title: Britannia prout divisa fuit temporibus Anglo-Saxonum, praefertim durante illorum Heptarchia
Date: c. 1645
Published: Amsterdam
Width: 21 inches / 54 cm
Height: 17 inches / 44 cm
Map ref: GB1914
Joan Blaeu’s map of the Anglo Saxon Heptarchy, or the Seven Saxon Kingdoms, was first issued in his atlas of the English counties in 1645 as part of the Atlas Novus. Both the counties and this map were fundamentally based on John Speed’s cartography, first issued in 1611, which in turn was based on surveys by Christopher Saxton from the 1570s. John Speed also purchased surveys from contemporaries such as John Norden in the early 1600s.

Speed was well known to the Amsterdam map trade. His atlas “The Theater of the Empire of Great Britain” had been engraved by the master engraver Jodocus Hondius in the early 17th century where his version of the Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy first made an appearance, an irony as Blaeu and Henricus Hondius, son of Jodocus, were locked in fierce competition in the 1640s.

Cartographically, Blaeu derives his map almost exactly from Speed, including his use of the English language even though it was printed for an European audience. This deviates only on a few occasions such as the Channel being called “The British Ocean” on the Speed map while Blaeu entitles it “Mare Britannicum”. The geography is a little confusing as Speed has taken his map of England, Scotland, and Wales published in 1611 and superimposed the Seven Saxon Kingdoms on it. So, for example, the first historical mention of the town of Hertford, marked on the map in the Saxon Kingdom of Mercia, was in 731AD when was called “Herutford” yet the Kingdom of Mercia was founded in 575AD. The placement of the shields associated with each of the Kingdoms is identical on the two maps.

Where the maps do differ quite strongly is in their aesthetics. This map is most renowned for its elaborate borders. The concept behind these is the same: the left border portrays the founders of each Kingdom and its founding date. The right border portrays important events during each Kingdom’s conversion to Christianity. Both sides are carefully dated and in chronological order. However, the art of engraving had evolved dramatically in Amsterdam in the first half of the 17th century and there is no doubt that Blaeu decided that he wanted to differentiate his map from Speed by embellishing the figures and scenes around the border in a very different manner. They are generally more elaborate, seem more natural and more expertly engraved. The backgrounds of each scene are more evolved and Blaeu has also chosen to avoid the strap work decoration so fashionable during Speed’s lifetime but now deemed unsuitable. Instead he replaces it with decoration more akin to drapery.

Another factor which differentiates this map is the use of original hand colour. While Speed’s maps are not unknown in original hand colour, they are extremely rare; usually they would only have been coloured by special commission. Blaeu insisted on his maps being coloured by expert colourists almost as standard. This characteristic, in addition to the quality of the Italian paper used in the Atlas Novus, could be made into an argument that this is one of the times were the later derivation of a map could certainly be perceived as equal to if not surpassing the original in the quality of its aesthetics.

Ironically, the Hondius firm quickly published their own version of the Heptarchy but it bore a greater resemblance to Blaeu’s map then the original which had been engraved by their patriarch, Jodocus. It was then issued at least once again by the firm of Valk&Schenk in the late 17th century.

Our example for sale is in superb original hand colour. Dutch text on verso (image available on request). [Framed] [GB1914]