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Willem & Jan Blaeu: Europa

Map: EUR1428
Cartographer: Willem & Jan Blaeu
Title: Europa
Date: 1635
Published: Amsterdam
Width: 17 inches / 44 cm
Height: 23 inches / 59 cm
Map ref: EUR1428
Blaeu’s folio map of Europe is part of his set of uniform continental maps issued in 1617. As with its three other partners, it is fundamentally based on Blaeu’s own wall map issued in 1608.

The wall maps were also a set, published in the same year under the geographical supervision of Hessel Gerritz. Gerritz was Blaeu’s former apprentice and the two must have had a close relationship as this was one of Blaeu’s flagship projects which would ultimately launch his firm, the “Oficina Blaviana”, to the pinnacle of the Dutch Golden Age of Cartography.

The geography of the map resembles Mercator’s map of Europe but with several substantial changes. These were enabled by Blaeu’s extraordinary access. His reputation as a scientific instrument maker, globe manufacturer and the publication of his wall map of the world in 1605 had earned respect throughout European intellectual and wealthy circles. This in turn gave him substantial access to privileged information such as the manuscript maps drafted by the North Holland Pilots Association. This accounts for his revision of the Baltic Sea, including the changes in the Gulf of Bothnia, the shape of Livonia and the coastline of the Gulf of Finland. Ultimately, this access allowed Blaeu to produce extraordinary detail uniformly throughout the continent, even in areas such as Russia and the Ukraine which generally presented more difficulty for cartographic accuracy than France or Britain.

Wisely in a time of turmoil, the map avoids specific geo political divisions, preferring to divide the continent into power blocks. A large area is shown depicting the Holy Roman Empire as opposed to its electorates, dukedoms and multiple other states. There is no indication of the Ottoman possessions in the Balkans nor is Italy divided into its various city states.

The nomenclature on the map is curious and provides another indication of the diverse assortment of sources consulted for the geography of this map. Generally the language used is Latin, sometimes corrupted and sometimes adapted but there are multiple cases where Blaeu was unable to find the exact Latin equivalent so he leaves the name on the map in its original language. Among the examples of these is the “Estrecho de Gibraltar” Spanish for the Straits of Gibraltar, “Myrmanskoy More” Russian for the Sea of Murmansk and “Botner See” Dutch for the Bothnian Sea or Gulf of Bothnia.

The border decoration is uniform with its three continental partners, with the side panels portraying costumed figures and the upper border showing cities. The latter images are all sourced from the “Civitates Orbis Terrarum” issued by Braun and Hogenberg in 1572 with the exception of Prague, which was sourced from a more recent image by Johan Willenberg in 1601. It is not known if Blaeu used a particular source for the figures in the side panels but they are similar to several volumes of costumed images issued in the 16th century.

Finally the map of Europe is unusual in that, unlike its continental partners, it was subject to a geographical update substantially late in its publishing life. Like its partners, after its issue as a separate sheet, it was used in the “Atlas Appendix” in 1630, then in Blaeu’s “Atlas Novus” first in 1635 and finally in the “Atlas Major” from 1662-1672. Sometime after its first appearance in the 1630 atlas, the mythical island of Friesland to the southwest of Iceland was removed. It is the only map from the set which bears such a substantial change after their insertion into atlases.

As with all of its partners, this is a fundamental map to anyone who wishes to theme a collection around maps of Europe, the Dutch Golden Age of Cartography or the Oficina Blaviana.

Our example offered here bears the island of Friesland and is in original hand colour. Latin text on verso (image available on request). [EUR1428]