BLAEU, Willem (1571-1638). A MAGNIFICENT SET OF THE FOUR CONTINENTS: AFRICA, ASIA, NORTH AND SOUTH AMERICA, AND EUROPE. Bologna: Pietro Todeschi, 1673.

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"Nova & Acvrata Totivs Africae Tabvla"; "Nova Acvrata Totivs Americae Tabvla"; "Nova & Acvrata Totivs Asiae Tabvla"; "Nova Acvrata Totivs Evropae Tabvla". 

4 large and EXCEPTIONALLY RARE engraved wall maps, each float-mounted and framed (each sheet size ca 47 4/8 x 67 inches; framed size: 54 x 74 inches), each map 4 sheets joined, with ORIGINAL HAND-COLOUR IN OUTLINE, each surrounded by a broad and elaborate decorative borders of vignettes of peoples of the world, birds-eye views, and explanatory letterpress, all printed on separate sheets and joined (expertly and discreetly repaired with some text and images supplied in manuscript facsimile). 

This set of wall maps represents an unparalleled masterpiece by the legendary Dutch cartographer William Janszoon Blaeu. Blaeu was a pupil of the great Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe, from whom he learned a very scientific approach to the field of cartography, which served to enhance his reputation. His early work concentrated on globe making, but by the early seventeenth century he began producing separately issued maps. Blaeu founded his publishing firm in 1596, and with the collaboration of his sons, Cornelius (1616-1648) and Joan (1596-1673), it was the most productive cartographic establishment in the Netherlands until it was destroyed by the Great Fire of 1672. Appointed mapmaker to the Dutch East India Company in 1633-1634, Blaeu had access to fresh geographical information that was not available to any of his contemporaries. He published his first world atlas, the Atlantis Appendix, with 60 maps in 1630, and continued to produce new maps at such a rate that by 1634, he abandoned the single volume format and announced his intention to publish a new world atlas, entitled the Theatrum, which eventually grew into the monumental 11-volume Atlas Maior, completed by his son Joan in 1662.  

This set of Blaeu’s continents, however, surpasses even that achievement in terms of rarity and importance. Aside from their high level of geographical accuracy, these maps, embellished in the Baroque style, rank among the most beautiful ever made. Blaeu's maps are immediately recognizable by their distinctive ornamentation. Whereas most sixteenth-century publishers had decorated their maps with strapwork designs in black and white, Blaeu embellished his maps with decorative swags, symbols, coats of arms, city views and large pictorial cartouches. Each of these maps boasts Blaeu's most recognizable decorative flourishes, with sixteen side panels containing costume vignettes and portraits of indigenous peoples, and twelve city views lining the lower margin. The oceans are heavily ornamented with fleets of ships and various sea creatures. Blaeu's maps are further acclaimed for their extremely high production standards. The quality of the engraving, the paper, and coloring are of the highest order, and placed Blaeu's work at the forefront of seventeenth-century cartography. 

The mere fact of the survival of this set of wall maps is highly notable. Most maps produced during this period were printed on one or two sheets, and bound into atlases or other books. A very limited number of large wall maps, involving numerous plates to print a certain area, were produced by major cartographic houses for ostentatious public display. The surviving number of these maps is exceedingly scarce. As opposed to their smaller, bound brethren, these maps were mounted on canvas and exposed to light, dirt, and other environmental factors. That not only one individual wall map, but indeed an entire set of four, has survived from this period is partially due to the steady esteem in which they -- and Blaeu himself -- have been held since the time of their production, and partly due to sheer good fortune. This particular set was published by Pietro Todeschi in Bologna, Italy in 1673. Todeschi translated the textual margins into Italian but left Blaeu’s masterful cartographic deliniations of the continents untouched. Though little is known of the living conditions or career of Todeschi, "a noted engraver of perspective views" (Library of Congress), he is known to have reengraved several maps of Dutch cartographers, among these Blaeu’s four wall maps of the continents. This set of Blaeu's wall maps represents an unparalleled opportunity for collectors.

A 1646 set of Blaeu’s continents recently sold at Christie’s June 3, 2009 auction. The maps were produced by Stefano Mozzi Scolari (1598-1650), an industrious printer who established his workshop at Allinsegna delle Tre Virtu a S. Zulian in Venice who developed a reputation for producing high-quality derivatives of important contemporary maps and prints. Though the 1646 set is remarkable for its original hand color, there are several aspects of these maps that reflect a less desirable quality than the 1673 set at Arader.

While the four central map sheets are uniform in their appearance across the variants of Blaeu’s originals, the presence and arrangement of the surrounding panels and registers reveal distinctions between them. This is due to the likelihood that, as luxury items made to custom order, the side panels would have been added or excluded due to client preference. All of the maps of the 1646 set include the pictorial side panels and lower register, but do not include an upper register featuring the title. While other editions of Blaeus wall maps, produced in both Amsterdam and Italy, maintain the same arrangement, the recorded variant most closely relating to the present set is to be found at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. All aspects of the map sheets and side panels are identical, save for the fact that the Greenwich maps each include an upper title register. Curiously, in each case, these title registers show signs of being hastily executed in a fashion dissonant from the careful engraving of the general composition. It seems as if the title register was an afterthought, perhaps never added to the maps of the 1646 set. In addition to the hastily executed title registers, the overall condition of the 1646 set is inferior to the 1673 set at Arader, including sporadic vertical splitting on all maps, a horizontal split on Asia map, minor points of surface loss and browning to map surface and side panels, lower register of all maps damp-stained with some of loss, and small area of facsimile en grisaille to lower register of Europe map. 

Referred to by Burdon as "...one of the most influential maps of America ever made" (pp. 192), this map is as geographically accurate as possible for the period. While the largely unexplored Pacific coast of North America extends to too far to the west, the overall proportions of the continent are well assured for the time. Nova Scotia has taken shape based on the voyages of Samuel de Champlain and Pierre Gua de Monts from 1604. New England is less defined indicating that intelligence of the English reconnaissance of the region in 1602 had not yet reached Amsterdam, while the depiction of the southeast is considerably advanced. The width of South America is overly attenuated, consistent with all maps of a period in which the determination of longitude was an inexact science. The Blaeu-Hondius 1624 third state was likely the model, as it depicts Jacob Le Maires discovery of the passage around Cape Horn, Streso lemaire during his voyage of 1615-7. The two cartographic insets respectively depict the Northwest Passage and the South Pole.

The cartouche in the lower right depicts the discovers of the New World, Christopher Columbus and Amerigo Vespucci. Below are four roundels containing the portraits of the four circumnavigators, Ferdinand Magellan, Sir Francis Drake, Sir Thomas Cavendish and Olivier Van Noort.

The side panels are adorned with vignettes of the indigenous peoples of the Americas including the inhabitants of Greenland, Virginia, Florida, New England, Hispaniola, Mexico, Peru, Brazil, Chile, and Patagonia. Gerritszs sources were Theodore de Bry’s engravings of John Whites original watercolors made during his voyage to Virginia and Carolina in 1585, as well as Jacques Le Moyne’s travels in Florida. The map itself is profusely decorated with ships and sea monsters, neptunes, mermaids and compass roses. At the lower right is another title cartouche headed AMERICA and surrounded by portraits of Columbus and Vespucci. Below are arranged portraits of the four circumnavigators of the world: Magellan, Drake, Cavendish and van Noort. The map was first published in 1608 but there is no known surviving copy. It was re-issued in 1612, 1624 by Henricus Hondius, and before 1652 by C. V. Visscher.

The lower register features birds eye views of New World cities and settlements, including the Virginia native village of Pomeiooc, from De Bry and White; Port Royal, Carolina from Le Moyne; St. Augustine, Florida, Santo Domingo, Cartagena from Batista Boazios 1588 engravings celebrating Francis Drakes pirate raids on these towns; Mexico City and Cuzco from Braun & Hogenberg; Mocha, Chile and Rio de Janeiro by Van Noort; and Havana and Potosi (Bolivia) from unknown sources. 

It is of little surprise that this early map of Africa was originally produced in the Netherlands, where Antwerp and Amsterdam were centers of world trade, and particularly of commerce with Africa during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Blaeu derived his cartography of north and northwest Africa from Ortelius and Dutch sources were used to draw the coastal regions south of Sierra Leone. The geography of South Africa was also based on Dutch sources, but was added after Blaeu’s state one of the map. The place names reflect Dutch colonization of the region after 1652. Denuce surmised that the maps made by the Portuguese Lopes and published by Pigafetta in Rome in 1591, were the source the much of Blaeu’s representation of the rest of Africa. In addition, he concluded that the "wall map of Africa seems to have been an original work, independent of the maps in [Blaeu’s] atlas."

In west Africa, Blaeu depicted territorial divisions similar to Gastaldi and Ortelius, labeling both Barbaria and Libya Interior. The Niger and Senegal Rivers combine to flow into the Atlantic as one great system, with an apocryphal Lake Niger being the source for the latter. The great entrepot of Tombotu (Timbukto) is shown and the Gold Coast is based a map by Luis de Texiera, which found its way to Amsterdam in 1602. Central Africa is derived from Ortelius and Pigafetta, and South Africa is updated by the inclusion of Dutch nomenclature, such as Mossel baij, from the reconnaissance of Cornelis De Houtman, 1595-97. The southern interior is based on Portuguese sources, with the frontier fort Cast[ellum] Portugal labeled on the map. The source of the heart of the continent, entirely unknown, is derived from the ancient maps of Ptolemy, which show both the sources of Nile and Zambezi Rivers as being lakes on other side of the mythical Mountains of the Moon. Abyssinia is taken from Ortelius’ imaginative maps of the legendary Christian kingdom of Prester John.

The map is lavishly decorated with four cartouches, sea monsters, elephants, rhinoceri, camels and ostriches. The side panels each feature vignettes depicting the peoples of different regions in what was thought to be their local costume, including the inhabitants of Senegal, Guinea, Gabon, the Congo, Madagascar, the Cape of Good Hope, Morocco, Malta, Tripoli, Algiers Ethiopia, Egypt, Abyssinia, Mozambique, as well as a scene of pilgrims traveling to Mecca for the Hajj. Gerritsz derived his artistic inspiration from various sources including Theodore De Bry, Pigafetta, and the Italian mannerist draughtsman Enea Vico.

The lower register features twelve birds eye views of towns taken from the early volumes Braun & Hogenbergs Civitas Orbis Terrarum (1572-1618), and depicts Tangiers, Ceuta, Algiers, Tunis, Alexandria, Cairo, Quiloa (Mozambique), Mozambique town, Sofala, Fort St. George of El Mina; the Canary Islands, and Safi (Morocco). Scolaris faithfulness to Blaeus original is such that the original engravers name appears in the lower left, as I. vanden Ende sculp. As with the maps of Europe and Asia, Blaeus name is printed in Italian as Autor Guglielmo Blaeu inside the cartouche to the lower right. 

In the seventeenth century Dutch and English ships were present in respectable numbers, so cartography of the area was no longer derived solely from Portuguese and Spanish sources. The Dutch were a powerful presence; in 1602 the Dutch East India Company (the VOC) was established, and geographical information funneled back to Amsterdam's cartographers.

Willem Blaeu, who would later be appointed the official hydrographer to the VOC, had access to the unrivaled map collection of Petrus Plancius, who in addition to Dutch sources also, by way of espionage, in 1592-94 acquired manuscripts from Bartholemmeo de Lasso in Lisbon. Blaeu first employed these sources on his 1605 folio map of Asia. Ceylon and the Maldives are derived form Linschoten and Java and Bali show advanced information from Willem Lodewijkszs map during his recent voyage with De Houtman. The enigmatic nature of eastern Borneo and the Celebes is betrayed by their delineation with dotted lines and the spice island of Banda features Dutch nomenclature. New Guinea shows the most advanced depiction of the period, and Honshu, Japan is derived from Orteliuss 1595 map. The mythical Strait of Anian, the gateway to the Northwest Passage, appears in the northeast. In homage to the imagination, China features Cambalu a capital city with an immense 28 mile perimeter, governed by the Great Cham. In the Arctic, the recent attempts by Willem Barents to navigate a Northeast Passage are indicated by the appearance of the island of Novaya Zemlya. The Aral Sea is notably absent, and the Caspian maintains the egg-shape prevalent until the 1730s. The Atlantic features a splendid depiction of the King of Spain riding a sea chariot, supposedly on a figurative visit to his New World possessions. Among the sea nymphs and battleships, a diagram accompanied by text on the left side of the Asia map explain how with a compass the user would be able to calculate the distance between two points on the map, demonstrating both its practical use as well as decorative value.

The side panels depict the peoples of various Asian civilizations in local costume, including Syrians, Arabs, Armenians, Persians, Gujaratis, Burmese, Sumatrans, Javans, Moluccans, Japanese, Chinese, Tatars, and Russians. Gerritsz was influenced by various sources including De Bry, Linschoten and Enea Vico. The lower register features birds-eye views from Braun & Hogenberg and Lindschoten including Rhodes, Farmagusta, Damascus, Jerusalem, Aden, Hormuz, Goa, Calicut, Candy, Bantam, Gammalamme (Moluccas), and Macao. 

Blaeu’s map of Europe is especially magnificent in design, and its advanced geography is indicative of Blaeu’s sourcing of manuscript pilot maps drafted by the North Holland School of Hydrographers. The large cartouche resting in the Atlantic features Gerritszs brilliantly executed double-hemispheric map, surmounted by the Arms of the City of Amsterdam, a reference to Blaeus official privileges.

The side panels are adorned with vignettes of Europeans in local costume including English, Irish, French, Belgian, Norwegian, Lithuanian, Polish, Bohemia, Germany, Portugal, Cantabrian, Castillian, Tuscan, Venetian, Greek, Hungarian, and Swiss peoples. Gerritszs precise models are not known, but stylistic similarities are evident by comparison to engravings from Han Weigels Habitus praeciporum popularum (Nuremberg, 1577) and Sebastian Vrancxs, Diversarum gentium (Venice, 1558).

The lower register contains twelve birds-eye views of cities, including London, Paris, Lisbon, Toledo, Rome, Venice, Amsterdam, Nuremburg, Prague, Vilnius, Moscow, Constantinople (Istanbul). All the views are taken from Braun & Hogenberg, with the exception of Prague, which was adapted from Johan Willenbergs 1601 engraving, and Amsterdam which is sensibly based on a first-hand account.