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Decorative Atlas Map of Central South America from the Golden Age of Dutch Cartography

Fine example of Blaeu’s atlas map of Paraguay, the Rio de la Plata region, and the surrounding area.

The principal focus of this double-page map is the river system of Central South America, including the Paraguay, Paraná and Rio de la Plata Rivers. The waterways and coastlines are highlighted. The Andes, handsomely rendered on the left-hand side as shaded mountains with Lake Titicaca in their midst, also immediately draw the eye. The political boundaries of the region are lightly outlined.

The region’s major European settlements, including Rio de Janeiro, São Paolo, Buenos Aires, Cordoba, Santiago, Mendoza, Potosi, and Cusco are drawn as small, two-dimensional collections of buildings. Other towns, provinces, mountain ranges, and bodies of water are lettered in a handsome font. The Tropic of Capricorn bisects the map. This, combined with a balance of detail in all four quadrants, gives the map a pleasing symmetry.

Finely ornamented, the map includes embellished cartouches, an ornate compass rose, and a surfacing sea monster. In the upper righthand corner, the title cartouche has grape vines and tropical fruit peeking out from behind it, a nod to the agricultural produce of the region. Above the title, a scale gives distances in “Milliaria Germanica communia” and “Milliaria Gallica communia” or common German miles and common French miles, perhaps an indication that the map was intended for readers across Western Europe. A handsome, colored compass rose includes a north-pointing fleur-de-lis and an east-pointing cross pattée. In the bottom right-hand corner is the mapmaker’s cartouche topped by an armillary sphere.

This map was included in volume two of Willem Blaeu’s Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, sive, Atlas novus and would have introduced its Northern European readers to a relatively obscure part of the world. It is a fine example of the one of the great Dutch Golden Age mapmaker’s work.

Condition Description
Engraving on 17th century laid paper. Trace original color with new color addition. The original paper support was trimmed at the neat line and mounted to contemporary laid paper for structural stability. Minor losses, smaller than one centimeter square, were retouched with archival pigments to visually integrate with the surrounding area.
Carl Moreland and David Bannister, Antique Maps, 3rd ed (Oxford: Phaidon, 1989). JG.
Willem Janszoon Blaeu Biography

Willem Janszoon Blaeu (1571-1638) was a prominent Dutch geographer and publisher. Born the son of a herring merchant, Blaeu chose not fish but mathematics and astronomy for his focus. He studied with the famous Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe, with whom he honed his instrument and globe making skills. Blaeu set up shop in Amsterdam, where he sold instruments and globes, published maps, and edited the works of intellectuals like Descartes and Hugo Grotius. In 1635, he released his atlas, Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, sive, Atlas novus.

Willem died in 1638. He had two sons, Cornelis (1610-1648) and Joan (1596-1673). Joan trained as a lawyer, but joined his father’s business rather than practice. After his father’s death, the brothers took over their father’s shop and Joan took on his work as hydrographer to the Dutch East India Company. Later in life, Joan would modify and greatly expand his father’s Atlas novus, eventually releasing his masterpiece, the Atlas maior, between 1662 and 1672.