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Willem & Jan Blaeu: Tabula Russiae

Map: RUS2554
 
Cartographer: Willem & Jan Blaeu
Title: Tabula Russiae
Date: c. 1650
Published: Amsterdam
Width: 20 inches / 51 cm
Height: 15 inches / 39 cm
Map ref: RUS2554
Description:
Blaeu's important map of Russia. Based on the initial map of his apprentice Hessel Gerritz first published in 1614, this map became the standard model for maps of the country for over fifty years. Gerritz obtained the original source map from Isaac Massa, a Dutch merchant who was promoting a trading venture to Eastern Europe. Massa obtained it from the Court of the King of Poland, making it the most accurate map of the region available at that time. The plan of Moscow on the upper left is also of particular note as it details the expansion of the city under Ivan the Terrible and it is credited to Feodor, son of Boris Godunov. This map is a cornerstone of any collection of maps of Russia.

Latin text on verso. Original hand colour. [RUS2554]

The Blaeu Family

For much of the 17th Century the firm of Blaeu were the dominant mapmakers at a time when Dutch cartography was universally acknowledged to lead the world. Established in 1596 by Willem Janszoon Blaeu (1571-1638), who had studied as a young man under the great astronomer, Tycho Brahe, it originally produced globes and scientific instruments. However, the firm soon expanded into map-making and publishing, and eventually became one of the most important and prolific map producers in Amsterdam.

In 1623 they published "Het Licht der Zeevaerdt" an atlas of sea-charts. In 1629 Willem and his son Jan (1596-1673) purchased 37 engraved plates from the widow of their rival Hondius and the following year they produced their first land atlas, the "Atlantis Appendix" which contained sixty maps. In 1635 this was expanded into the "Atlas Novus" a major world atlas in six volumes. This contained a county atlas of England and Wales and from 1635-59 was published in editions in Dutch, Latin, French, German and Spanish.

After the death of his father, Jan (also spelt Joan or Johannes) Blaeu embarked on one of the most ambitious publishing undertakings of the 17th Century, the printing of the "Atlas Maior". This magnificent work was to contain nearly six hundred maps and, depending on the edition, varied between nine and twelve volumes. Exquisite engraving allied with typically lovely hand-colouring make maps from the "Novus" and "Maior" atlases some of the finest ever produced.

The "Atlas Maior" was to be the crowning glory of the Blaeu firm, but in 1672 a disastrous fire swept through the Blaeu printing house destroying much of the stock and most of the engraved copperplates. The following year Jan died and the surviving plates were dispersed.

The period between 1570 and 1670 is known as the Golden Age of Dutch Cartography and it is a measure of the Blaeu’s achievements that they were the dominant cartographers throughout most of this period. Reflecting their contemporary reputations Willem and Jan were in turn both appointed Hydrographer to the Dutch East India Company (the VOC) and their atlases were frequently presented to foreign sovereigns and potentates by the Dutch government.