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Fine Blaeu Map of Tartary, China, and Central Asia

Nice example of Willem Blaeu's map of China, Tartary and Central Asia, extending from Mongolia to the Caspian and the Volga River, and to Tibet and the Upper Ganges River.

The map of Central and East Asia shows how mountainous the region is, as well as highlights many large lakes and towns. The tip of Korea is shown as a peninsula. Nova Zembla has an unfinished coastline and the Tartary Ocean is open and navigable. The Great Wall of China is shown in great detail, separating China from the rest of north-central Europe.

There are several notes across the map, adding extra information. Near the Great Wall, a note explains that the massive structure was meant to keep out the Tartars. The most distinct of these notes are just across the Great Wall in the Lop Desert. There, pairs of anthropomorphized animals dance—there is a deer couple, flying serpents, and a group of small bird-life creatures. A note explains that fantastical humans are said to inhabit this area and are led by a devilish figure.

The map also contains decorative elements. In the bottom left corner is a cherub dressed in European garb watching a turbaned man, meant to be an Asian, use dividers. They work atop the scale bar. In the lower right corner is an elaborate cartouche. The title in written on a camel’s blanket. A child rides the camel, which is led by men wearing supposedly Asian dress.

The map was part of the elder Blaeu’s atlas, one of two series of expanding atlases developed by the Blaeu publishing family. Blaeu developed an atlas over the course of the early 1630s and first released his Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, sive, Atlas novus in 1635, achieving a career-long ambition of releasing a competitor to the Mercator-Hondius-Jansson atlas. After Willem’s death in 1638, his son Joan continued to add to the Atlas novus, until this was eclipsed by his monumental Atlas maior (1662-1672).

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.