BLAEU, Joannes (1596-1673). Atlas Major, sive cosmographie Blaviana. Amsterdam: Joannes Blaeu, 1662.

$ 485,000.00

11 volumes, folio (21 x 14 inches). Latin text. 11 letter-press title-pages with engraved vignettes. 9 engraved frontispiece title-pages (without those for volumes II, III and XI), half-titles to volume X, part 2 (China), and 597 ENGRAVED MAPS, PLANS AND PLATES, most maps double-page, 3 folding, some full-page or in the text, including 9 plates of Tycho Brake's astronomical instruments, including one with his portrait, in volume I, views of Stonehenge and Avebury in volume V, 7 plates of the Escortai in volume IX, FINELY COLOURED THROUGHOUT IN A CONTEMPORARY HAND, INCLUDING FINELY COLOURED FRONTISPIECES AND SUB-TITLES HEIGHTENED WITH GOLD (some browning and spotting especially heavy in volumes about Germany, Belgium, England, Asia and Africa, one or two early marginal repairs occasionally touching the image, some marginal waterstaining). Contemporary Dutch gilt panelled vellum (spine of volume VI with small expert repair, a bit marked, but ATTRACTIVE).

Provenance: from the library of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society, with their small ink library stamp in the margins of many maps and on the rear endpapers.


This splendid, sweeping atlas represents the eleven-volume first edition of Johannes Blaeu's celebrated cartographic masterpiece, the "Atlas Maior", published in Amsterdam in 1662. With different volumes devoted to specific parts of the world, including Northern Europe; Northern and Eastern Europe; Germany; Netherlands; England and Wales; Scotland and Ireland; France and Switzerland; Italy; Spain, Portugal and Africa; Asia; and America. Blaeu lavished meticulous attention on every corner of the globe. No other atlas ever published was as costly, or had such an exalted place in society.

The "Atlas Maior" was such a symbol of status that it became the traditional state gift presented by the Dutch government, its prestige owing to the remarkable standards of production involved. In terms of the quality of engraving, beauty of ornament, coloring, typography and paper, the atlas has no equal, and the maps were on the forefront of geographical knowledge and discovery. One especially significant volume is the "Atlas Sinensis", devoted to China and the Far East. Compiled by the Italian Jesuit Martino Martini, it represents the first atlas of China produced in the western world. The atlas of America, too, occupies a singular place in the history of cartography, for its twenty-three 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 Chesapeake Bay to be published in continental Europe.

The scope of the "Atlas Maior" as a whole was unprecedented, as was the lavishness of its decoration, which encompasses elaborate cartouches, often with costumed figures and the flora and fauna of the region described, decorative swags, garlands of fruit and coats of arms, all enlivened with rich color.

The Blaeu family firm was founded by Willem Janzoon Blaeu (1571-1638) in 1596. He was eventually joined by his sons, Cornelius (1616-1648) and Joan (1596-1673). The firm became the most productive cartographic establishment in the Netherlands until it was destroyed by fire in 1672. The elder Blaeu initiated the great series of atlases that culminated in the "Atlas Maior", in which Joannes Blaeu incorporated much of the geographical knowledge bequeathed him by his father. This breathtaking atlas represents the zenith of the Golden Age of Dutch Cartography.

Truusje Goedings, renowned specialist in Dutch colourists of the 17th-century writes of this copy:

"All title-prints of this copy are extensively coloured with a lavish addition of gold. Especially the title-page of volume oneI is richly coloured and heightened with gold, with a rare overall applying of gold to the clothing of the front-figure. The maps have yellow or blanc frames. The usual neat borderline colouring of the landregions has often been complemented by a full light grey-blue washing of the sea-surfaces which gives the colouring of this copy a more than usual quality. The decorations such as legends and cartouches are coloured fully and very lively without exception. This is all done expertly, and characteristic for the high quality standard publisher's colouring cared for by Joan Blaeu himself. Atlases like these, on large format and with this colouring, bound in gilt vellum or leather were used by governments and merchants as gifts or presentation copies. Blaeu set out the map sheets to a small collective of experienced colourists of his choice. Most important among these was the in his time very famous mapcolourist Frans Koerten (1604-1668), who is traditionally associated with the colouring of Blaeu's atlases. He was also a bookdealer, worked for other publishers as well and had his workshop at the Egelantiersgracht, near Blaeus printinghouse. Blaeu offered his 'Atlas Major' white or coloured in vellum atlas bindings. Prices of coloured copies like this, with title-prints heightened with gold, were ca. 400,- guilders (that was the double of a skilled worker's yearly income), uncoloured copies cost fl. 300,-. (See on this more extensively my article on the colouring of the Atlas van der Hem ('t Goy Houten 2011), esp. p.110-112).Though not cheap, the 'Atlas Major' was a huge commercial success, not in the least because of its decorative and colouristic qualities. With the colouring of the 'Atlas Major' Blaeu inspired and set a standard for other publishers" (Truusje Goedings).

VOLUME I. NORTHERN EUROPE: 61 maps and plates, including 5 plans and 9 plates of Tycho Brahe's astronomical instruments (Phillips excludes these to give a total of 52). Without Blaeu's 4-page "to the reader". Additional panel headed 'Arctica' pasted below allegorical illustration of frontispiece;

VOLUME II. NORTHERN AND EASTERN EUROPE, AND GREECE: 39 maps, including plans of Moscow and the Kremlin, a few pages waterstained at upper and lower margins, not affecting engraved surface, slight marginal browning, map of Morea torn, all but last map with stamps only in margins;

VOLUME III. GERMANY: 96 maps, 2 maps with marginal repairs, some slight waterstaining at upper and lower margins just affecting 2 maps;

VOLUME IV. NETHERLANDS: 63 maps, light overall browning, mostly at margins, some soiling;

VOLUME V. ENGLAND AND WALES: 58 maps and 3 views (Phillips includes the view of Stonehenge to give a total of 59), overall light browning, early 20th-century typed list of plates tipped-in to front free endpaper;

VOLUME VI. SCOTLAND AND IRELAND: 55 maps, map 83 repeated Fifae Pars Orientalis East Part of Fife, replacing Fifae vice Comitatus, the Sherifdome ofFyfe, slight overall browning, maps of Lothian and Aberdeen torn, a few small marginal tears, some creasing;

VOLUME VII. FRANCE AND SWITZERLAND. 70 maps, including the map La Bresse Chalonoise, not listed in Phillips. Locus Lemanni with abrasion at lower fold, light overall browning;

VOLUME VIII. ITALY: 60 maps, some marginal soiling, creasing and a few marginal tears, small repair in Ischia map;

VOLUME IX. SPAIN, PORTUGAL AND AFRICA: 34 maps and 7 plates of the Escorial, and with a dedication leaf to Philip IV not listed by Phillips, slight overall browning, general map of Africa slightly frayed;

VOLUME X. ASIA: 28 maps, including the 17 maps of China and Japan based on the work of Fr Martino Martinio, some worming at lower edges not affecting engraved surface, slight browning;

VOLUME XI. AMERICA: 23 maps, some browning. The Brazilian maps (originally published by Blaeu in the Barlaeus Rerum per octennium in Brasilia 1647) show the fine vignettes after Frans Post.

Lloyd Arnold Brown, "The World Encompassed", exh. cat. (Baltimore, 1952), n. 149; Philip D. Burden, The Mapping of North America: A List of Printed Maps 1511-1670 (Rickmansworth, 1996), 474; Koeman I (Bl 56); Phillips 3430.