The Race to Map Britain
Blaeu and the rival Golden Age Dutch cartographic publishing house of Janssonius raced to bring out atlases of the British Isles in the 1630s and early 1640s, to add to their expanding world atlases. The work of the two firms represents Dutch map-making of the highest quality at a time when the Low Countries were at the forefront of the international market.
They worked from Elizabethan and Jacobean surveys by Saxton, Speed and others, and based the accompanying text on Camden’s Britannia. Distinctive features of English county cartography (such as the enclosures) were retained, as often were the coats of arms of distinguished local historical figures, and the decorative elements give a flavour of the region. In this case the cannon below the cartouche emphasise the strategic importance of Kent, which was strongly fortified along the coast and Medway. Other imagery of ripe fruit and wool reflects Kent’s agricultural produce.
Blaeu issued the first editions of his British atlas, with Latin and French text, in 1645 and Dutch text the following year. It was never printed in English. The Blaeu Atlas was eventually extended to the eleven volume Atlas Major, widely considered to be the most magnificent work of its kind ever published, and issued in various editions between 1662 and the disastrous 1672 fire which destroyed most of the firms copper plates and effectively put them out of business. The Blaeu firm was official cartographer to the Dutch East India Company (VOC), and Blaeu globes were carried on all VOC vessels.
Condition & Materials
Copper engraving, 38.5 x 53 cm, original hand-colour, small stain in lower margin, well away from printed area; German text on verso.
Koeman, Atlantes Neerlandici, Bl 46