|Johannes Blaeu — Atlas Major|
Published: Amsterdam 1662
Medium: 593 engraved maps with original hand color in 11 volumes
This splendid, sweeping atlas represents the 11- volume first edition of Johannes Blaeu's celebrated cartographic masterpiece, the Atlas Maior, published in Amsterdam in 1662. Blaeu's Atlas Maior was the greatest atlas ever published, a landmark in the history of cartography. With different volumes devoted to specific parts of the world, Blaeu lavished meticulous attention and flawless detail on every corner of the globe. No other atlas ever published was as costly, or had such an exalted place in the society in which it was produced. The Atlas Maior was such a symbol of status that it became the traditional state gift presented by the Dutch government, its prestige derived mainly from the remarkable standards of production involved. For quality of engraving, beauty of ornament, coloring, typography and paper, the atlas has never been surpassed, and the maps were on the forefront of geographical knowledge and discovery.
One especially significant volume is that devoted to China and the Far East. Called the Atlas Sinensis, it was compiled by the Italian Jesuit Martino Martini and represents the first Western atlas of China. The atlas of America, too, occupies a singular place in the history of cartography and world perception. Its 23 maps helped to shape contemporary conceptions regarding the geography of the New World more than almost any other source. Included in that volume is a general map of the continent, famed for its side panels that contain costumed figures and city views, as well as a distinguished series of regional maps. The map of Virginia was the first version of John Smith's map of the area surrounding the Chesapeake to be published on the European continent. The scope of the Atlas Maior as a whole is stupendous, and the large folio maps are decorated with elaborate cartouches, often with costumed figures and the flora and fauna of the region described. Decorative swags and garlands of fruit surround legends, scales, and coats of arms. This is a superb example of Blaeu's work, famous for its attention to detail in both cartographic accuracy and Baroque decoration.
The Blaeu family firm was founded by Willem Janzoon Blaeu (1571-1638) in 1596, and with the collaboration of his sons, Cornelius (1616-1648) and Johannis (1596-1673), the firm was the most productive cartographic establishment in the Netherlands until it was destroyed by the Great Fire of 1672. The elder Blaeu was appointed mapmaker to the Dutch East India Company in 1633-1634, and therefore had access to fresh geographical information that was not available to any of his contemporaries. From this small beginning sprang a great series of atlases that culminated in the Atlas Maior, in which Johannes Blaeu incorporated and expanded upon much of the geographical knowledge bequeathed him by his father. The popularity of the Atlas Maior necessitated editions in Latin, Dutch, German, French and Spanish. The contents of this unprecedented atlas illustrate the highest standards of the accuracy, beauty and geographical knowledge, and its presentation bears witness to the superb craftsmanship of engraver, printer, binder, and papermaker in 17th-century Amsterdam. The foremost product of the Golden Age of Dutch Cartography, Blaeu's Atlas Maior is unequalled in the history of mapmaking.