Mapping the World in 1635: A Beautiful Map from the Blaeu Family

On this "œgeographical and hydrographical" map of the world, California is attached to the continent (many maps of the time showed California as an island); but, still, the Dutch lack of information on North America is revealed in a cartouche demonstrating their ignorance. The map is drawn on Mercator's projection, with its stretched-out latitudes in the northern and southern regions. North America appears much wider than usual, with a consequently narrow Pacific Ocean. The Bering Strait has not yet been explored, and is still the narrow Anian. In the west, Blaeu's Latin text states: "œCatervatim hic homines per campos, Societate inita, in tentoriis, Tartarorum more, agrestem vitam degut" (roughly translated: "œHere men live all over the plains in tents much like the people of Tartary"). The Spanish names Cape Escondido and Cape de Fortuna reflect Dutch awareness of Spanish exploration or maps. The mythical kingdoms Anian Regnum and Quivera Regnum reflect older stories from the conquistadors of gold and wealthy empires.

The Blaeu family of mapmakers produced some of the most beautiful maps created during the 17th-century heyday of the Dutch republic; these maps are among the treasures in The New York Public Library's collections. This map is just one plate from a series of probably nine atlases, which together made up an entire world atlas. Today we might look at a National Geographic atlas of the world and think of it as a large, detailed work, but it pales beside the 17th-century Blaeu atlases, both in detail and in the number of volumes taken to cover the world.


Willem Blaeu. Nova totius terrarum orbis geographica ac hydrographica tabula [Geography of the World and Map of the Seas]. [Amsterdam: Apud Guiljelmum et Iohannem Blaeu, 1635?].
The New York Public Library, The Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division, Lawrence H. Slaughter Collection 1001.


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