Johannes (Joan) Blaeu 1596 - 1673 by Anthony Wright
Langham Village History Group
Langham Village History Group Langham Village Web Site
Johannes   Blaeu,   a   Dutchman   believed   to   be   born   in   Alkmaar,   was the   eldest   son   of   Willem   Janzoon   Blaeu.   Willem   had   originally founded   a   business   in Amsterdam   in   1599   making   globes,   scientific instruments   and   printing.   Once   established,   the   family   business quickly    expanded    into    publishing    maps.    Moreover,    its    prolific output   was   such   that   it   became   one   of   the   largest   publishing   firms in   Europe   during   the   17th   Century.   In   1620   Johannes,   although becoming   a   Doctor   of   Law,   elected   to   go   into   partnership   with   his father.    On    Willem’s    death,    in    1638,    Johannes    and    his    brother Cornelius   took   over   the   business   while   in   the   same   year   Johannes was    appointed    official    cartographer    to    the    Dutch    East    India Company.   However,   in   1642   Cornelius   died   leaving   Johannes   to carry   on   their   work.   In   1645   Johannes   published   a   county   Atlas   of England   and   Wales.   This   was   Volume   IV,   of   six   volumes,   of   the Latin   edition   of   his   ‘Theatrum   Orbis   Terrarum   sive   Atlas   Novus’. Volume V,   Scotland   and   Ireland,   was   added   in   1654.   The   whole series was completed by 1658 and contained 403 maps. Volume   IV   of   the Atlas   Novus   comprised   fifty-eight   plates   which   consisted   of   four   general   maps   and   fifty-five   maps   of   the counties   and   islands   of   England   and   Wales.   The   reverse   of   the   maps   of   successive   editions   had   text   in   Dutch,   French, German   and   Latin.   Fifty-three   of   the   total   were   based   on   Speed’s   ‘Theatre’   maps   with   six   others,   believed   to   be,   based on   his   Dutch   rival   Jan   Jansson   who   he   had   out   manoeuvred   by   publishing   his   work   one   year   before   the   latter’s publication. This   was   a   shrewd   move   because   although   Jansson   had   completed   some   of   his   works   much   earlier   than   Blaeu they did not include all the counties. On    completion    of    the    Novus    he    immediately    undertook    to    transform    it    into    a    larger    work.    The    full    title    was: the ‘Atlas Maior   sive   Cosmographia   Blaviana,   qua   solum,   salum,   coelum,   accuratissime,   describuntur’   (Large   Atlas   or Blaeu’s   Cosmography,   in   which   the   Land,   the   Sea   and   the   Heavens Are   Very Accurately   Described). This   was   a   tremendous work   and   subsequently   appeared   in   nine   (Dutch)   volumes   (600   maps),   ten   (Spanish   uncompleted)   volumes   (545   maps), eleven   (Latin)   volumes   (594   maps)   and   finally   twelve   (French)   volumes   (597   maps).   With   600   double   paged   maps   in   the Dutch   edition,   it   had   200   more   than   the   Novus,   it   also   had   over   3,000   words   of   text.   In   all   editions,   except   the   Dutch, Volume   V   consisted   solely   of   England   and   Wales   while   Volume   VI   consisted   of   Scotland   and   Ireland.   The Atlas Maior   was initially   published   in   1662.    Ten   years   later,   in   1672,    disaster   struck   when   fire   destroyed   Blaeu’s   printing   works   at Gravenstraat.   Most   of   the   equipment,   copper   plates,   metal   for   type   and   maps   were   destroyed.   His other   printing   house at   Bloemgracht,   which   printed   mainly   books,   continued   to   function,   but   the   overall   loss   for   the   business   must   have   been considerable. The   surviving   plates   and   map   stock   were   sold   off   and   Blaeu   died   a   year   later   in   1673.   One   of   his   sons,   Joan, took   over   the   business   and   continued   to   publish   maps   and   other   work.   However,   it   seems   that   the   firm   was   now   in decline. It finally closed in 1695. Blaeu’s   atlases   were   sold   in   many   countries   and   editions   were   published   in   Dutch,   French,   German   Latin   and   Spanish. The text   on   the   reverse   of   the   maps,   by   Camden   from   his   Britannia,   was   in   the   same   language   as   the   publication. However,   some   impressions   were   issued   without   text   and   sold   separately   or   in   atlases.   The   cartographic   quality   of   his maps   is   difficult   to   surpass   and   Rutland   is,   arguably,   by   far   the   best   work   of   the   17th    Century   maps   of   the   county. Not only   were   his   atlases   regularly   hand   coloured   to   a   very   high   standard   but   some   were   even   highlighted   in   gold. Indeed,   from   Blaeu’s   own   price   list   of   1670   it   showed   that   the   Atlas   Maior   was   the   most   expensive   ‘book’   then on the market. Rutland   has   a   splendid   cartouche   around   the   title   which   shows   a   rural   scene   with   countryfolk   (probably   shepherdesses shepherd   or   cowherd),   sheep,   cattle   and   cherubs   with   fruit   and   vegetables.   Another   cartouche   surounds   the   scale   in English   miles   which   also   indicates   the   equivalent   in   German   miles.   It   is   set   under   an   astrolabe   and   supported   by   a   cherub and   a   craftsman   holding   a   set   of   dividers.   The Arms   of   King   Charles   I    is   displayed   at   the   top   of   the   map.   Three different coats of Arms of nobility, all copied from Speed, with one extra blank shield completes the picture. The   Rutland   map   measures   a   total   of   24 5 / 8 inches   ( 626 mm)   across   with   a   top   to   bottom   measurement   of   20 inches   ( 509 mm). From the edges of the printed borders it measures 19 5 / 8  inches ( 498 mm) and 15 1 / 8  inches ( 384 mm) respectively.