Blaeu’s Atlas Maior

Joan (Johannes) Blaeu was a Dutch cartographer that produced one of the most beautiful atlases of the Baroque, the Atlas Maior. There were several editions of the atlas–the one I have, published by Taschen, dates from 1665. What’s interesting about mapmaking in the 17th century was the veritable explosion of geographical knowledge that fueled competition among mapmakers and printing presses. The one-upmanship and rampant copying and repackaging of plates from other atlases into a new one (like the Mercator atlas) is akin to a much more laborious and expensive Baroque version of blogging. Blaeu, for example, added Martini’s Atlas Sinensis [Atlas of China] as the sixth part of his own Atlas. The rate of map production and consumption was staggering:

One hundred years after the first modern atlas in history–Ortelius’ Theatrum with its 53 maps–the publication of volumes comprising maps and text had caught on to such an extent that a gigantic 12-part series including approximately 600 maps could become a commercial success. (Peter van der Krogt, “Introduction” 38-39)

Below are a few images from Blaeu’s atlas that I used in my dissertation defense.

Finally, the Mapamundi (click for larger image):

New Spain (present-day Mexico):

The sheer size and detail of the maps are stunning. You have to imagine them in a massive folio-sized book to get the real effect. If you get the chance, see if there’s a copy in your local university library. The Atlas Maior also contains some text, which is interesting from a colonialist/ethnographic perspective.

Here are a few good sites dedicated to Blaeu’s atlas. Some are in Dutch but are easy enough to figure out with the help of Google translation tools.

Regional Archive, Leiden

University of Amsterdam Library

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One Response to “Blaeu’s Atlas Maior”

  1. […] notion of plagiarism, moreover, did not exist in Cervantes’ time. In my post on Blaeu’s Atlas Maior, I discussed how map plates were often bought, sold, or simply […]

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