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Blaeu’s Exquisite and Important Double-Hemisphere World Map

Fine example of Johannes Blaeu's scarce double-hemisphere map of the world, originally prepared by Blaeu for his Atlas Maior in 1662.

The map was much admired by Blaeu’s fellow mapmakers. It was included in contemporary composite atlases of the period, by Van Keulen, Goos, and others.

Unlike Blaeu's first world map, which appeared in the majority of his atlases and was plotted on the Mercator projection, here Blaeu utilizes a double-hemisphere format. The hemispheres are cleaved in the Atlantic, with the Americas in a western hemisphere and the old world of Africa, Asia, and Europe in an eastern hemisphere.

The geography is a grand summary of the developments of cartography in the seventeenth century. California is depicted as an island. Anian is shown as an island separated from North America by a strait of the same name. Yesso (Hokkaido) and other phantom islands fill the northwest Pacific, while New Zealand has a partial coast glimpsed by Abel Tasman on his voyage of 1642.

Van Diemen’s Land, also sighted by Abel Tasman, floats south of mainland Australia. This mainland is studded with place names of Dutch origin, a result of the Dutch encounters with the continent on their way to the East Indies. Blaeu was the hydrographer of the Dutch East India Company and therefore had access to the most updated geographic knowledge about the Indian and Pacific Oceans.

The map is made to the highest standard, with especially fine engraving and layout. At bottom are allegorical figures representing the seasons. A figure rides on a chariot, aging through spring with its bounty, summer with rich wheat, autumn with its harvest abundance, and winter with its paucity and chilly privation. At top are angels in varying degrees of repose, with men of natural philosophy puzzling over instruments in the corners.

States and rarity

This second of Blaeu’s atlas world maps is rarer than the first, which is on a Mercator projection.

Recently, a variant plate of the Blaeu double-hemisphere map has been discovered, the present example is the standard Atlas Maior version. The variant can be quickly distinguished by the following characteristics: It includes two sailing ships off the west coast of South America and one ship off the southeastern coastline of South America. The ship below Australia is not present. The three flying fish at the center of the map, in the Atlantic, are also missing in the variant version of the map. There are more differences throughout; the map were printed on two different plates, not simply revisions to the same plate.

Because of the relative scarcity of this map and Blaeu's prominence as one of the most influential and decorative map makers of the Golden Age of Dutch Cartography, this map has become especially sought-after by collectors. It is increasingly scarce on the market.

The Dutch Golden Age and cartography

In the late 1500s, seven Dutch provinces in the northern Netherlands achieved independence from Spain and formed the Dutch Republic. Though the Dutch state was small and ruled by a decentralized system of control, it managed to cultivate a powerful seventeenth-century sea empire based on trade. This era became known as the Dutch Golden Age.

Due in large part to their powerful trade empire, the Dutch became known for cartography in the seventeenth century. Their publishing houses produced the highest quality work in Europe, particularly those maps and charts of foreign lands, and Dutch map-making set the bar for cartographic accuracy and artistry into the early-eighteenth century.

The Dutch in the East Indies

The Moluccas were the vaunted Spice Islands, originally the only source in the world for nutmeg, mace, and cloves. The Portuguese were the first Europeans to gain power in the region, trading for spices in the Moluccas and controlling the spice market in Europe.

The Dutch wanted in on the lucrative trade, but they also had to contend with the Portuguese. The first Dutch expedition, led by Cornelis de Houtman in 1595, avoided India, the Strait of Malacca, and the Moluccas—Portuguese strongholds—in favor of the Sunda Strait. The Dutch set up their trade centers on the island of Java, at Bantam and, later, Batavia. After Houtman, the second Dutch expedition (1598-1600) quickly set sail for the East Indies. It was followed by five others; the Dutch merchants were eager to exploit the opportunity. In 1602, the most powerful of these merchants and the Dutch government, the States General, created the Dutch East India Company (VOC), a monopoly to control the East Indies trade.

Strait of Anian

This strait, believed to separate northwestern America from northeastern Asia, was related to the centuries-long quest to find a Northwest Passage connecting the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific. Appearing on maps beginning in the mid- to late-fourteenth century, the rumor of this strait and a Northwest Passage in general inspired many voyages of discovery, including those of John Cabot, Sir Francis Drake, Gaspar Corte-Real, Jacques Cartier, and Sir Humphrey Gilbert.

The term Anian itself comes from Marco Polo’s thirteenth-century accounts of his travels. Polo used the term to refer to the Gulf of Tonkin, but cartographers thought it could refer to this supposed strait between Asia and North America. The Strait of Anian, so named, first appeared in a 1562 map by Giacomo Gastaldi, and was later adopted by Bolognini Zaltieri and Gerardus Mercator.

North Pacific chimeras: Eso, De Gama, and Compagnie Land

Historically, Eso (Yeco, Jesso, Yedso, Yesso) refers to the island of Hokkaido. It varies on maps from a small island to a near-continent sized mass that stretches from Asia to Alaska. Eso is often tied to two other mythical North Pacific lands, Gamaland and Compagnies Land.

Juan de Gama, the grandson of Vasco de Gama, was a Portuguese navigator who was accused of illegal trading with the Spanish in the East Indies. Gama fled and sailed from Macau to Japan in the later sixteenth century. He then struck out east, across the Pacific, and supposedly saw lands in the North Pacific. These lands were initially shown as small islands on Portuguese charts, but ballooned into a continent-sized landmass in later representations.

Several voyagers sought out de Gama’s lands, including the Dutchmen Matthijs Hendrickszoon Quast in 1639 and Maarten Gerritszoon Vries in 1643. Compagnies Land, often shown along with Staten Land, were islands sighted by Vries on his 1643 voyage. He named the islands for the Dutch States General (Staten Land) and for the Dutch East India Company (VOC) (Compagnies, or Company’s Land). In reality, he had re-discovered two of the Kuril Islands. However, other mapmakers latched onto Compagnies Land in particular, enlarging and merging it with Yesso and/or Gamaland.

In the mid-eighteenth century, Vitus Bering, a Danish explorer in Russian employ, and later James Cook would both check the area and find nothing. La Perouse also sought the huge islands, but found only the Kurils, putting to rest the myth of the continent-sized dream lands.

California as an island

The popular misconception of California as an island can be found on European maps from the sixteenth through the eighteenth centuries. From its first portrayal on a printed map by Diego Gutiérrez, in 1562, California was shown as part of North America by mapmakers, including Gerardus Mercator and Abraham Ortelius. In the 1620s, however, it began to appear as an island in several sources.

The myth of California as an island was most likely the result of the travel account of Sebastian Vizcaino, who had been sent north up the shore of California in 1602. A Carmelite friar, Fray Antonio de la Ascension, accompanied him. Ascension described the land as an island and around 1620 sketched maps to that effect. Normally, this information would have been reviewed and locked in the Spanish repository, the Casa de la Contractación. However, the manuscript maps were intercepted in the Atlantic by the Dutch, who took them to Amsterdam where they began to circulate. Ascension also published descriptions of the insular geography in Juan Torquemada’s Monarquia Indiana (1613) (with the island details curtailed somewhat) and in his own Relacion breve of ca. 1620.

The first known maps to show California as an island were on the title pages of Antonio de Herrera’s Descripcion de las Indias Occidentales (1622) and Jacob le Maire's Spieghel Der Australische Navigatie (1622). Two early examples of folio-maps are those by Abraham Goos (1624) and another by Henry Briggs, which was included in Samuel Purchas’ Hakluytus Posthumus or Purchas his Pilgrimes (1625). In addition to Briggs and Goos, prominent practitioners like Jan Jansson and Nicolas Sanson adopted the new island and the practice became commonplace. John Speed’s map (1626-7), based on Briggs’ work, is well known for being one of the first to depict an insular California.

The island of California became a fixture on mid- and late-seventeenth century maps. The island suggested possible links to the Northwest Passage, with rivers in the North American interior supposedly connecting to the sea between California and the mainland. Furthermore, Francis Drake had landed in northern California on his circumnavigation (1577-80) and an insular California suggested that Spanish power in the area could be questioned.

Not everyone was convinced, however. Father Eusebio Kino, after extensive travels in what is now California, Arizona, and northern Mexico concluded that the island was actually a peninsula and published a map refuting the claim (Paris, 1705). Another skeptic was Guillaume De L’Isle. In 1700, De L’Isle discussed “whether California is an Island or a part of the continent” with J. D. Cassini; the letter was published in 1715. After reviewing all the literature available to him in Paris, De L’Isle concluded that the evidence supporting an insular California was not trustworthy. He also cited more recent explorations by the Jesuits (including Kino) that disproved the island theory. Later, in his map of 1722 (Carte d’Amerique dressee pour l’usage du Roy), De L’Isle would abandon the island theory entirely.

Despite Kino’s and De L’Isle’s work, California as an island remained common on maps until the mid-eighteenth century. De L’Isle’s son-in-law, Philippe Buache, for example, remained an adherent of the island depiction for some time. Another believer was Herman Moll, who reported that California was unequivocally an island, for he had had sailors in his offices that claimed to have circumnavigated it. In the face of such skepticism, the King of Spain, Ferdinand VII, had to issue a decree in 1747 proclaiming California to be a peninsula connected to North America; the geographic chimera, no matter how appealing, was not to be suffered any longer, although a few final maps were printed with the lingering island.

Shirley, 428. KAP
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.