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The First Edition of Blaeu’s Atlas Maior.

Exceptional Unrestored Condition. With Unusually-Fine Contemporary Hand Color.

An exceptionally fine copy, with contemporary hand-color, of the first edition of the Atlas Maior, the crowning achievement of one of the most famous Dutch cartographers. This is the most lavish atlas ever produced, and certainly one of the most beautiful.

The Genesis of the Atlas Maior

Willem Janszoon Blaeu, the head of the Blaeu publishing family and the official cartographer of the Dutch East India Company (VOC), first published a world atlas in 1630, titled Atlas Appendix, with 60 maps. He steadily expanded the atlas in the following years, until in 1635 the book became so large that it would not fit in a single volume. The new atlas was to be known as the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (or Theatre du Monde in French). The history of this book, and its eventual development into the greatest atlas ever published -- Blaeu's Atlas Maior -- requires an appraisal of the rivalry between the firms Jansson and Blaeu.

In the middle of the 17th century, the firms Jansson and Blaeu were engaged in ongoing one-upmanship in the atlas market. If Blaeu published a two-volume atlas with 210 maps, Jansson would closely follow with a three-volume 300-map atlas. After the death of Willem Jansz. Blaeu in 1638, the competition sped up; both firms issued larger versions of their multi-volume atlas: the Atlas novus. By the end of 1658, Bleau had published an Atlas novus with six-volumes and 400 maps, while Jansson had published a six-volume Atlas novus with 450 maps.

Jansson attempted to solidify his primacy when he issued his 11-volume German-language Novus Atlas absolutissimus. The set had a huge compliment of maps, between 500 and 550, and when combined with Cellarius's celestial atlas, and Jansson's eight-volume town book, his firm was the first to realize a complete description of the countries, towns, oceans, and heavens.

Johannes Blaeu was not to be outdone, however. In 1662, Blaeu issued his Atlas maior (Major Atlas) in eleven volumes, with approximately 600 maps. He would follow it with French and Dutch editions and attempted to complete a Spanish edition. The Americas volume was the last volume included in the Atlas maior. The set was the largest, most impressive, and most expensive publication of the 17th century, and it stands as the pinnacle of printed atlases.

In 1672, a fire broke out in the Blaeu firm workshop, decimating the stock and the business, and bringing an end to the in-progress publication of the Spanish language edition of the Atlas Maior at 10 volumes -- it was originally supposed to run to 12. Johannes Blaeu died the following year, and the family business declined thereafter.


Volume I: World, Northern Europe, Scandinavia. 1662.

Half-titles, engraved allegorical title, printed title with hand-colored vignette, 61 engraved maps and plates, including 5 plans and 9 plates of Tycho Brahe’s astronomical observatory on the island of Haven in the Danish Sound. Includes the important world map, of which Shirley observes: “As with all productions of the firm of Blaeu, the engraving and layout are all of the highest standard.” The world map which begins the atlas is a double hemisphere map. Shirley, 428.

Volume II: Eastern Europe, Russia, Sweden, Greece. Printed title with hand-colored vignette, half-titles, hand-colored woodcut illustrations, 39 engraved maps (38 double-page).

Volume III: Germany. Printed title with hand-colored vignette, 96 engraved maps (3 folding and 92 double-page).

Volume IV: Netherlands and Belgium. Printed title with hand-colored vignette, 2 engraved pictorial titles hand-colored and heightened with gold, with letterpress title over slip and 63 hand-colored maps (60 double-page).

Volume V: England. Printed title with hand-colored vignette, engraved architectural title dated 1662, hand-colored and heightened in gold, with letterpress title over slip, 58 engraved maps (57 double-page), 3 hand-colored engraved plates, woodcut and engraved illustrations.

Volume VI: Scotland and Ireland. Printed title with hand-colored vignette, engraved hand-colored architectural title dated 1654, with letterpress title over slip, half-title, 55 engraved maps (54 double-page).

Volume VII: France and Switzerland. Printed title with hand-colored vignette, engraved hand-colored architectural title, with letterpress title over slip, half-title, 70 engraved maps (67 double-page).

Volume  VIII: Italy. Printed title with hand-colored vignette, engraved hand-colored architectural title, with letterpress title over slip, 59 engraved maps (58 double-page), and one half-page engraved map in text.

Volume IX: Spain, Portugal, and Africa. 2 printed titles with hand-colored vignette, engraved hand-colored architectural title, with letterpress title over slip, 41 double-page maps and views (3 folding) including 7 plates of the Escorial.

Volume X: Asia, China, and Japan. Printed title with hand-colored vignette, 2 engraved hand-colored architectural titles, first with letterpress title over slip, half-title, 28 double page maps.

Volume XI: America. Printed title with hand-colored vignette, 23 engraved double-page maps.


F.C. Koch, Rotterdam

Jean R. Perrette, Brittany

Condition Description
11 volume. Text in Latin. 10 engraved allegorical or pictorial titles some with letterpress text labels, 12 printed titles with hand-colored engraved vignette, 10 divisional half-titles, 593 engraved maps, plans, views, and plates, mostly double-page (some folding, full page or within text), including 9 plates of Tycho Brahe’s astronomical observatory (one with his portrait) in volume one, views of Stonehenge and Avebury in volume 5, 7 plates of the Escorial in volume 9, all mounted on guards and very finely colored by a contemporary hand, printed index leaf at the end of each volume.

Publisher’s full vellum binding, covers paneled in gilt with central gilt arabesque and armillary sphere, large floral corner-pieces, smooth spines gilt in eight compartments.
Alden & Landis 662/13; JCB (1919) III, pp. 69-70; Koeman Bl 56; Nordenskiold 24; Phillips Atlases 3430; Tooley, p. 33-34. See also notes by John Goss in Blaeu's The Grand Atlas of the 17th Century World introduction, captions, and selection of maps by John Goss; foreword by Peter Clark. London: Studio Editions, 1990.
Johannes Blaeu Biography

Joan, or Johannes, Blaeu (1596-1673) was the son of Willem Janszoon Blaeu. He inherited his father’s meticulous and striking mapmaking style and continued the Blaeu workshop until it burned in 1672. Initially, Joan trained as a lawyer, but he decided to join his father’s business rather than practice.

After his father’s death in 1638, Joan and his brother, Cornelis, took over their father’s shop and Joan took on his work as hydrographer to the Dutch East India Company. Joan brought out many important works, including Nova et Accuratissima Terrarum Orbis Tabula, a world map to commemorate the Peace of Westphalia which brought news of Abel Tasman’s voyages in the Pacific to the attention of Europe. This map was used as a template for the world map set in the floor of the Amsterdam Town Hall, the Groote Burger-Zaal, in 1655.

Joan also modified and greatly expanded his father’s Atlas novus, first published in 1635. All the while, Joan was honing his own atlas. He published the Atlas maior between 1662 and 1672. It is one of the most sought-after atlases by collectors and institutions today due to the attention to the detail, quality, and beauty of the maps. He is also known for his town plans and wall maps of the continents. Joan’s productivity slammed to a halt in 1672, when a fire completely destroyed his workshop and stock. Joan died a year later and is buried in the Westerkerk in Amsterdam.