One of the Most Spectacular Atlases in Existence
A superlative example of Nicolaes Visscher's Atlas Minor, comparable to the Paul Mellon-Yale Center for British Art example, which has been called "the most spectacularly illuminated atlas known."
Bound in two volumes, the atlas is composed of two engraved allegorical frontispieces and 226 double-page engraved maps (95 in volume I, with original hand-numbering in ink, 1 to 94 (the first map unnumbered); there are 131 maps in volume II, numbered 1 to 129 with map 14b and 14c). Each volume has two handwritten index sheets. Maps 14b and 14c of the second volume are captioned by hand.
All maps are fully hand-colored and finished in gold by a contemporary hand. The resplendent original hand-coloring and gold-leafing of the maps are far beyond what is encountered in other Dutch atlases of this period and it embodies the finest output of the Dutch Golden Age map colorists (called meester afsetter in Dutch). The combination of this quality of hand-coloring and the size of the book elevates this Atlas Minor far beyond what has appeared on the market in decades.
Visscher's Atlas Minor
Visscher's Atlas Minor was produced in widely varying configurations and compliments of maps. The least elaborate examples of the atlas include a couple dozen uncolored maps. The largest examples (of which there are only two known) have over 225 maps with full hand-coloring and extensive gold illumination. The present atlas belongs to the latter group; it is one of the two largest known Atlas Minors produced by the Visscher firm. This atlas includes 226 maps, the other, from the Mellon Collection and now in the Yale Center for British Art, has 227.
The coloring of the present atlas and the Mellon atlas is quite similar and was possibly completed by the same workshop. The gold-leafing of the maps in the Mellon atlas is so impressive that Cornelis Koeman, the noted Dutch atlas scholar, described it as "the most spectacularly illuminated atlas known". Having compared the present atlas with the Mellon example, it is clear that, if anything, there is more gold-highlighting on maps in the present atlas than the Mellon atlas. The coloring of both atlases is differentiated from the work of the famous Dutch colorist Dirk Jansz. van Santen by the lack of a yellow-and-red border around the neatlines of all of the maps. Furthermore, in some cases, the colorist of the Visscher atlases preferred to use more gold illumination than even van Santen. For instance, we can see from comparing the Novi Belgii map in the present atlas to that in the Atlas Blaeu Van Der Hem in the Austrian National Library (the greatest work attributed to van Santen), that there is more gold on the present map than in that atlas. Indeed, the colorist of the present atlas used gold to lavishly heighten the neatlines, graticulated borders, cartouches, titles, costumes, ships, cities, the tropical and equatorial lines, coast lines and major geographical and political borders.
Aside from the gold, the hand-coloring is fantastic. The subtly and attention to detail far exceeds that of even the great class of "standard" seventeenth-century Dutch colorists; mountains are individually and varyingly picked out in a range of appropriate colors, with the rusty, brown, and blue summits sloping into green plains that extend far beyond the lines laid down by the engraver. The spires and battlements representing towns are all carefully filled in in deep red, often finished with gold. For the cartouche of Jansson's America Pars Meridionalis map of South America, there are seven natives standing around it. Not one of the figures is painted with the same pigment as the one adjacent, each has a believable but different skin tone. This is not the paint-by-numbers composition of the usual hand-colored map; here the colorist subdues the engraver's work, rendering it the backdrop to astoundingly-illuminated watercolors.
Provenance and political context
Based on dating the maps included in the atlas, a publication date in the latter half of the 1680s is most likely. That was a time of colossal intra-European power struggles, the most relevant of which for this book was the formation of the Grand Alliance to counter France in 1689. It is probably within this context of great diplomacy that this atlas was produced. A few details in the book hint at the initial owners of the book.
Firstly, the publisher's gilt-leather bindings hold an important clue. The inner gilt-ruled borders on all of the books' covers have been emblazoned with additional gilt tools of the Habsburg crowned double-headed imperial eagle. These emblems would only have been placed on an atlas that was owned by the Holy Roman Emperor, another member of Habsburg family, or a subsidiary royal within the Holy Roman Empire. It is possible that the book was once owned by Leopold I himself, however, it seems more likely that it would have been a gift or purchase by someone like Prince Eugene of Savoy, who purchased the Atlas Blaeu-Van Der Hem in Amsterdam in 1730 and whose impressive collection of books and atlases was purchased by the Austrian state after his death in 1737.
The book must also be understood in the context of the Dutch rampjaar (or Disaster Year) of 1672, when much of the Dutch Republic was conquered by England, France, and an assortment of German principalities. This atlas makes an interesting study of one of the major events of 1672, the flooding of the defensive Dutch Water Line. In maps 14a-14c of the second volume, three variations of Visscher's Ultraiectini Dominii Tabula are presented each telling more of the story of the Water Line and its use against the French. The first map is a beautifully hand-colored, but otherwise standard, example of the map. Map 14b uses lavish blue and gold coloring to tell the story of which cities had been taken by France and which remained under the control of the Dutch state during this time,. The map also shows the large section of Holland that had been flooded to halt further French encroachment towards Amsterdam. Map 14c goes a step further showing what areas of the Water Line had been flooded and what areas had been drained through the actions of the state.
The following notes elaborate on what we know about the provenance of the book.
- On each cover, the corners of the inner gilt-ruled border have been emblazoned with additional gilt tools of the Habsburg crowned double-headed imperial eagle. This suggests that the book was owned by a member of the Habsburg family or a royal within the Holy Roman Empire.
- Both front covers of the volumes bear blue-bordered nineteenth-century or early twentieth-century(?) paper sale labels on the front covers: "N. 1451 / 179 / 2 vol" (i.e., sale number 1451, lot number 179).
- From at least 1881 the book was owned by Marino Morandi, Padova, Italy. Green and black label: "Espositore: Commune di Padova | Proprieta: Marino Morandi di Padova." The atlas is recorded as Morandi's in the 1881 cartobibliography Saggio di Cartografia della Regione Veneta, entry 785. Morandi was a doctor who wrote a book in 1846 on medicinal plants: Rhodigino Medicinae Lauream in Archigymnasio Patavino Consequenti. His family might have come to Padova from Switzerland in the nineteenth century.
- Offered for sale on December 21, 2000. Sotheby's Italia (Milan), lot 1982.
- From the Library of the Count de Ribes, the Ribes family sale, December 12, 2019. Sotheby's Paris.
Notes on some of the maps
The atlas contains a number of important maps and suites of maps, however the most noteworthy is probably the set of five wall maps including four of the continents (Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Americas) and a double-hemisphere world map from which the two hemispheres have been cut out and pasted onto leaves in the atlas.
The world map in two hemispheres appears to be a larger version of the ca. 1679 Visscher world map 'Novissima Totius Terrarum' Orbis Tabula, Auctore Nicolao Visscher (Shirley 486). The dating, by Koeman, makes sense for this atlas, and the fact that Shirley 486 appears in some examples of later Atlas Minors increases the chance that the present example is a larger version of that map. The fact the map is present here without any decorative borders and that it is not recorded by Shirley in his catalog of world maps suggests that the map was possibly never fully completed.
The large folding map of the Americas, titled simply America, has long eluded map catalogers. In his catalog of maps of North America, Burden (313) says of the map:
This extremely rare two-sheet map of America is by Jan Mathisz (1627-87), a relative unknown in cartographic circles... The life of this map is difficult to piece together, largely owing to the lack of surviving examples. It is a possibility that it might have been in the hands of the Visscher family, their catalogue of maps and prints in 1682 describes a set of four continents, in two sheets each... State 2, c. 1680 Presumed, by Nicolaas Visscher; no example known.
The wall map of the Americas included in this atlas is that lost map mentioned by Burden. In the cartouche in the upper right corner of the map is an imprint line reading "Gedruckt | T'AMSETEDAM, | bij | JAN MATHYSZ | PLAATSNYDER". The map is exceptionally beautiful, with two large scenes of European explorers and native peoples at the bottom. However, the cartography was largely out of date by the 1680s, when it was apparently issued.
Betz (84) was unaware of this state of the Africa wall map, saying of the title generally:
The map's history is not clear, largely due to its extreme rarity... It is possible that the Mathisz.' plates were acquired by Visscher in c. 1680, as Burden speculates, but this is impossible to prove as an example of this state is not known to exist. It is known that the Mathisz. plates re-appeared in c.1696 in the hands of Cornelis Danckerts II (1664-1717). In 1992, Sotheby's auctioned a set of wall maps of the continents bearing the imprint of Cornelis Danckerts, which had been found in a composite Danckerts atlas.
The Mathysz-Visscher maps of Europe and Asia, which are also in this atlas, are as rare as the maps of America and Africa; we have not been able to trace any other surviving examples of these maps.
- a. [Western Hemisphere] / b. [Eastern Hemisphere]
- Nova Totius Terrarum Orbis Geographica ac Hydrographica Tabula
- Nova et Accurata Poli Arctici et terrarum Circum Iacentium Descriptio
- Novissima Islandiae Tabula
- ...Sueciae et Norvegiae nec non Maris Universi Orientalis
- Regni Norvegia Nova et Accurata Descriptio
- Regni Daniae Novissima et Accuratissima Tabula
- Ivtia olim Cimbrica...
- Fionia vulgo Funen
- Zeelandia Insula Danicarum Maxima
- Scania Vulgo Schoonen
- Novissima Russia Tabula
- Russiae vulgo Moscovia dictae. Partes Septentrionalis et Orientalis
- Moscoviae Pars Australis
- Tabula Nova Totius Regni Poloniae...
- Tabula Prussia...
- Typus Generalis Ukrainae...
- Ukrainae Pars quae Pokutia...
- Ukrainae Pars quae Kiovia Palatinatus...
- Ukrainae Pars quae Podolia Palatinatus...
- Ukrainae Pars quae Barclavia Palatinatus...
- Danubius Fluvius Europae Maximus A Fontibus Ad Ostia...
- Totius Regni Hungariae...
- Nova et Accurata Transylvaniae Descriptio
- Walachia Servia Bulgaria, Romania
- Karstia, Carniola Histria et Windorum Marchia
- Sclavonia, Croatia, Bosnia cum Dalmatiae Parte
- Totius Italiae Tabula...
- Insulabum Melitae Vulgo Malte et Gozae...
- Regnum Siciliae...
- Neapolitanum Regnum
- Stato Della Chiesa Con La Toscana
- Dominio Fioren Tino
- Dominium Venetum in Italia
- Stato di Milano
- Liguria ò Stato della Republica di Genova
- Tabula Generalis Sabaudiae
- Montisferrati Ducatus
- Pedemontium et reliquae Ditiones Italiae Regiae Celsitudini Sabaudicae...
- Ductus Chablasius et Lacus Lemanus...
- Tabula Germaniae...
- Exactissima Helvetiae Rhaetiae, Valesiae...
- Alpinae seu Foederatae Rhaetiae Subditarumque ei Terrarum nova descriptio
- De Vallais Waliasserland (?)
- Das Wiflispur Gergow...
- Argow cum parte merid. Zurichgow
- Territory Basiliensis Nova Descriptio
- Comitatus Tirolensis
- Utriusque Alsatiae, ducatus Dupontii, et Spirensis Episcopatus...
- Alsatia Superior cum Suntgoia et Brisgoia
- Landgratiatus Alsatia Inferioria (?)
- Totius Sueviae novissima Tabula
- Nova Alemanniae sive Sueviae Superioris Tabula
- Bavariae Superioris et Inferioris nova descriptio
- Bavaria Ducatus Per Ger Mercatorem
- Palatinatus Bavariae
- Austria Archiducatus Auctore Wolfgango Lazio
- Moraviae Nova et Post Omnes Priores Accuratis Sima Delineato...
- Silesiae Ducatus...
- Franconia Vulgo Franckenlandt
- Nova Et Accurata Moguntini Archiepiscopatus delineatio
- Wetteravia die Wetteraw
- Rhenus Fluviorum Europae celeberrinus cum Mosa Mosella...
- Palatinatus Ad Rhenum
- Saxonia Superior...
- Marchionatus Brandenburgicus
- Marchionatus Brandenburgici pars quae Marchia Vetus vulgo Altemarck dicitur
- March Brandenburgici pars quae Marchia Media vulgo Mittesmarck audit
- Marchionatus Brandenburgici partes duae, Nova Marchia et Uckerana
- Marchionatus Brandenburgici partes duae, Ruppin Comitatus & Prignits Regiuncula
- Pomeraniae Ducatus Tabulam
- Meklenburg Ducatus
- Ducatus Holsatiae Descriptio Novissima
- Albis Fluvius Germaniae celebris a Fontibus ad Ostia
- Saxonia Inferior
- Brema et Ferdae...
- Ducatus Lunebur Gensis
- Ducatus Brunsvicensis
- Thuringia Landgraviatus
- Hassia Landgraviatus
- Archiepiscopatus Trevirensis
- Coloniensis Archiepiscopatus
- Ducatus Iuliacensis Cliensis Montensis...
- Iuliacensis Montensis Ducatus
- Clivia Ducatus
- Nova Totius Westphaliae Descriptio...
- Westphalia Ducatus
- Episcopatus Paderbornensis...
- Monasteriensis Episcopatus
- Osnabrugensus Episcopatus
Volume 2 (Begins at Image #206):
- Provinciarum Germaniae Interior
- Belgium Foederatum
- Frisiae Orienta Lis
- Frisiae Groningae et Territorii Emdensis
- Drentia Comitatus
- Dominii Frisae Tabula...
- Transisalania Provincia...
- Ducatus Geldria et Zutphania Comitatus
- Ducatus Gelriae pars prima quae est Neomagensis
- Ducatus Gelriae pars fecunda quae est Ruremundensis
- Ducatus Gelriae pars Tertia quae est Comitatus Zutphaniensis
- Ducatus Gelriae pars Quarta quae est Arnhemiensis siue Velvavia
- a. [Ultraiectini Domini Tabula...] / b. [Ultraiectini Domini Tabula...] / c. [Ultraiectini Domini Tabula...]
- Comitatus Hollandiae Tabula Pluribus Iocis Recens Emendata a Nicolao I. Visschero
- 'T Hoogh-Heemraetschap Vande Uyt Waterende Sluysen in Kennemerlant Ende West-Frieslant
- Rhenolandia Amstelandia...
- Delflandia, Schielandia et circumiacentes Infulae ut Voorna, Overflackea, Goerea, Yselmonda...
- Hollandiae pars Heridignalior vulgo Zuyd-Holland...
- Comitatus Zelandiae
- Belgii Regii
- Tabula ducatus Brabantiae continens Marchionatum sacri imperii et dominium Mechliniense
- Prima pars Rabantia cuius capur Lovanium
- Secunda Pars Brabantiae cuius urbs primaria Bruxeliae
- Tertia pars Brabantiae qua continetur Marchionat SRI horum urbs primaria Antverpia
- Quarta pars Brabantiae cuius capur Sylvanducis
- Mechlinia Dominium et Aerschot Ducatus
- Limburgi Ducatus et comitatus Valckenburgi
- Leodiensis Episcopatus...
- Flandriae Comitatus...
- Vlaenderen (?)
- Flandriae Tevtonicae ars Orientalior
- Flandriae partes duae quarum altera Proprietaria altera Imperialis
- Flandria Gallica Continens Castellanias...
- Flandriae pars Occidentalis...
- Cominatus Hannonia et Archiepiscopatus Cameracensis
- Ducatus Lutzenburgi Novissima et accuratissima Delineatio
- Comitatus Namurci
- Geographica Artesiae Comitatus Tabula
- Nova Totius Angliae, Scotiae, et Hiberniae
- Scotia Regnum
- Anglia Regnum
- Hibernia Regnum vulgo Ireland
- Gallia vulgo la France
- Picardia vera et Inferior
- Normandia Ducatus
- Le Gouvernement de L'Islende France
- Champaigne et Brie, etc.
- Lotharingia Ducatus
- Utriusque Burgundiae, tum Ducatus tum Comitatus, Descriptio
- Comitatus Burgundiae
- Duche de Bretaigne...
- Pictaviae Ducatus Descriptio vulgo Le Pais de Poictov
- Nova et accurata descriptio Delphinatus vulgo Davphiné
- Comte et Gouvernement de Provence
- Description du Guienne
- Hispania et Portugalliae Regna
- Biscaia et Guipuscoa Cantabriae veteris pars
- Arragonia Regnum
- Accuratissima Principatus Catalonia et Comitatus Ruscinonis et Cerretania Descriptio
- Valentia Regnum
- Veriusque Castillae
- Galliaecia Regnum
- Portulgalliae et Algarbiae Regna
- Andaluzia continens Sevillam et Corduram
- Granata et Murcia Regna
- Fezzae et Marocchi Regna Africa
- Insuliae Canariae, olim Fortunata Dictae
- Insuliae Promontorii Virdis, Hispanis Issas de Caro Verde belgis De Soute Eylanden
- Nigritarum Regio
- Mar di Ethiopia vulgo Oceanus Aethiopicus
- Aethiopia Superior vel Inferior vulgo Abissinorum...
- Regna Congo et Angola
- Aethiopia Inferior vel Exterior
- Insulia S. Lavrentii vulgo Madagascar
- Nova Aegypti Tabula
- America Septentrio Nalis
- Extrema Americae versus Boream, ubi Terra Niva Nova Francia
- Novi Belgii...
- Mar del Nort
- Insulae Americanae in Oceano Septentrionali ac Regiones Adiacentes
- Hispanolia et Cubae
- Nova Hispania et Nova Galicia
- Yucatan conventus Iuridici Hispane Novae Prs Occidentalis, et Guatimala Conventus Iuridicus
- America pars Meridionalis
- Guiana fiue Amazonum Regio
- Accuratissima Brasiliae Tabula
- Mar del Zur Hispanis Mare Pacificum
- Terra Australis Incognita
- Turcicum Imperium
- Insula Candia olim Creta
- Nova Persiae Armeniae Natoliae et Arabiae
- Terra Sancta, sive Promissionis, olim Palestinia...
- Tabula Tartariae et majoris partis Regni China
- Iaponia Regnum
- Imperii Sinarum Noba Descriptio
- Xantung, Sinarum Imperii Provincia Quarta
- Pecheli, sive Peking Imperii Sinarum Provincia Prima
- Xensi Imperii Senarum Provencia Secunda
- Xensi Imperii Senarum Provencia Tertia
- Honan Imperii Senarum Provencia Quinta
- Nanking sive Riangnan Imperii Senarum Provencia Nona
- Chekiang Imperii Senarum Provencia Decima
- Fokien Imperii Senarum Provencia Undecina
- Kiangsi, Imperii Senarum Provencia Octava
- Huquang, Imperii Senarum Provencia...
- Suchuen Imperii Senarum Provencia...
- Iunnan Imperii Senarum Provencia Decimaquinta
- Queicheu, Imperii Senarum Provencia...
- Quangsi Sinarum Imperii Provencia Decimatertia
- Quantung Imperii Sinarum Provencia...
- Indiae Orientalis nec non Insularum...
- Mar di India
- Insularum Moluccarum Nova Descripto
- Insula Borneo et occidentalis pars Celebis
- Insula Iavae cum parte insularum Borneo Sumatrae
- Magni Mogolis Imperium
- Sinus Gangeticus vulgo Golfo de Bengala
- Insula Zeilan olim Taprobana nunc incolis Tenarisim
Nicolaas Visscher II (1649-1702) was a prominent Dutch cartographer and publisher during the late 17th century. He was the grandson of Claes Janszoon Visscher and the son of Nicolaes Visscher I, both of whom were also renowned cartographers in their own right. After his father's death in 1679, Nicolaas Visscher II took over the family's map publishing business.
In 1680, he married Elizabeth Verseyl from Gouda, and in 1682, he obtained a new privilege from the States of Holland and West Friesland to protect his maps and publications from being copied. Visscher II continued the family tradition of producing high-quality maps, atlases, and globes, often with elaborate and decorative elements. He maintained the Visscher family's reputation for accuracy and craftsmanship in the competitive world of Dutch cartography until his death in 1702. After his death, his widow, Elizabeth, and later his son, also named Nicolaas, continued the business until around 1726.