The Cartograph Willem Blaeu

Willem Janzoon Blaeu (1571-1638) was the founding father of the most important cartographic publishing company in the Netherlands, holding on to its excellence for nearly one hundred years. Born 1571 in Alkmaar, Blaeu had initially settled in Amsterdam as a musical instrument builder and as a maker of globes. Blaeu soon became the hydographic expert with the famous East India Company and, in 1633, the chief cartograph of the United Republic of the Netherlands. Amsterdam had moved up to be the hub of European cartography. And Blaeu's firm was, for three quarters of a century, certainly the dominant enterprise.

In 1635 he published ( together with his son Johan) the first two volumes of his "Le Théatre du Monde ou Nouvel Atlas" which over the years grew to 12 volumes: The "Geographia Blaviana". Blaeu depicted in about 600 maps the entire known world as best as possible regarding cartographic exactness. And he added to his maps illustre ingredients such as lively staffages, marvellously ornamental cartouches and heraldic highlights so that the viewer is struck by the decorative value his eyes see.

When Blaeu died in 1638 his sons Johan (1595-1673) and Cornelius ( ? -1648) continued to enlarge the sucessful business. Between 1647 and 1659) Johan published a series of gigantic city views and maps which were published in the so-called Mauritius-Atlas, of which there are two known complete copies (at the Berlin State Library and at the British Museum). I happened to have been fortunate to admire many of these absolutely spectacular city views on the occasion of a visit to a Prince Lobcovitz-chateau in the Czech Republic where they decorate, in glorious color and splendor, the walls of several halls.

The Bleau-atlasses' marks of exceptional distintion are the high quality standards of engraving, of typography, of paper used and of original coloring, expertly surveyed within the company.

Blaeu's print shop and warehouse went up in flames in 1672, just one year before his last son died.

Here are details about Blaeu's atlasses beyond the mentioned "Theatre..":
Atlas Major: Latin text, twelve volumes, 1662
Le Grand Atlas: French text, 12 volumes, 1663 and 1637
Grooter Atlas: Dutch text, 9 volumes, 1664
Atlas Major: Spanish text, 10 volumes, between 1658 and 1672
There are maps with German text, but an obviously intended atlas did not materialize.


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© Rainer Rauhut