WILLIEM JANSZOON BLAEU'S MAGNIFICENT 17TH CENTURY MAP OF THE CARIBBEAN
Willem Janszoon Blaeu
“Insulae Americanae” from “Theatrum Orbis Terrarum”
Engraving with original hand color: 20” x 23”
Willem Janszoon Blaeu’s finely engraved and beautifully colored map of the Caribbean is a spectacular example of the best in 17th-century Dutch cartography, and a landmark in the mapping of the West Indies. Blaeu’s map represents one of the most geographically sophisticated delineations of this area from the period. As official cartographer to the Dutch East India Company, Blaeu had access to information regarding geographical discoveries that was unavailable to any of his competitors. Cartographically this map draws on the extremely rare chart by Hesel Gerritsz from circa 1631, which was a summation of the first-hand geographical knowledge that Gerritsz had acquired during his voyage to South America and the West Indies in 1628. The area of coverage in Blaeu’s chart is identical, with the exception of his addition of the west coast of Central America. The nomenclature of the North American part is also virtually the same, the notable exception being Blaeu’s naming of Virginia. It was this map, however, rather than Gerritsz’s chart, that made the explorer’s more accurate picture of West Indian geography widely known to Europeans.
Indeed, so great and lasting was the influence of this map that it was repeatedly copied by such notable cartographers as Jan Jansson, Nicholas Visscher, Arnoldus Montanus, John Ogilby, Frederick de Wit, Louis Renard, and others. Furthermore, its treatment of the coast was integrated into a number of important 17th-century North American maps, such as those by Jansson, Nicolas Sanson, Alexis-Hubert Jaillot, and Vincenzo Coronelli, and through their works the influence of Blaeu’s map continued to be felt in the cartography of the following century.
Yet the map’s interest is not confined to geographical accuracy and longstanding influence. In the highly competitive map publishing world of Amsterdam in the 1600s, Blaeu was also known for producing maps of great visual appeal. This map’s geographical information is complemented by vivid color and baroque decorative details, such as the winged putti flanking the title cartouche, dedication and legend, the allegorical figure and coat of arms at lower left, and the sailing ships and compass roses that serve as informative ornamental accents throughout the map.
Blaeu’s “Insulae Americanae” is a seminal work by this superb cartographer, and influenced European conceptions of New World geography for decades.
Offered at $7,500.
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