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Jan Blaeu: Arabia

Map: MEAST4257
Cartographer: Jan Blaeu
Title: Arabia
Date: c. 1663
Published: Amsterdam
Width: 20 inches / 51 cm
Height: 16 inches / 41 cm
Map ref: MEAST4257
Magnificent Dutch Golden Age map of the Arabian Peninsula divided into classical Arabia Petraea, Deserta and Felix. Features French text on verso (image available on request) and superb original hand colour.

The geographical shape of the map is based on the map by Hugo van Linschoten, published in his travel book c.1599 but with additions and revisions. Other sources include Blaeu’s own wall map of Asia published in 1608 as well as Dutch portolan charts. This map also follows the orthodox division of the Peninsula, namely, Arabia Petrae, Arabia Felix and Arabia Deserta; these divisions stem back to classical times and refer to the region around the city of Petra, in the northwest of the Peninsula; Deserta corresponds to the desert and is in the north; Felicis or Felix represents a reference to the classical writer Diodorus Siculus who describes an extraordinarily advanced civilization in the Yemen, a thriving fertile land with a vast network of irrigation canals which transformed the formerly arid landscape. The reports of this "Felix" or thriving Arabia were likely to have been augmented by the accounts of the prosperity and might of the extraordinary Arabian Empire which flourished from the 8th to the 13th century. This accounts for it being the largest of the geographical divisions marked on the map. Furthermore, Blaeu’s map of the Peninsula shows much greater interior detail, including the location of the city of Medina with a note marking its location as the tomb of Mohammed. [Framed]


The Blaeu Family

For much of the 17th Century the firm of Blaeu were the dominant mapmakers at a time when Dutch cartography was universally acknowledged to lead the world. Established in 1596 by Willem Janszoon Blaeu (1571-1638), who had studied as a young man under the great astronomer, Tycho Brahe, it originally produced globes and scientific instruments. However, the firm soon expanded into map making and publishing, and eventually became one of the most important and prolific map producers in Amsterdam.

In 1623 they published the "Het Licht der Zeevaerdt" an atlas of sea-charts. In 1629 Willem and his son Jan (1596-1673) purchased 37 engraved plates from the widow of their rival Hondius and the following year they produced their first land atlas, the "Atlantis Appendix" which contained sixty maps. In 1635 this was expanded into the "Atlas Novus" a major world atlas in six volumes. This contained a county atlas of England and Wales and from 1635-59 was published in editions in Dutch, Latin, French, German and Spanish.

After the death of his father, Jan (also spelt Joan or Johannes) Blaeu embarked on one of the most ambitious publishing undertakings of the 17th Century, the printing of the "Atlas Maior". This magnificent work was to contain nearly six hundred maps and, depending on edition, varied between nine and twelve volumes. The exquisite engraving allied with typically lovely hand-colouring make maps from the "Novus" and "Maior" atlases some of the finest ever produced.

The "Atlas Maior" was to be the crowning glory of the Blaeu firm. In 1672 a disastrous fire swept through the Blaeu printing house destroying much of the stock and most of the copper engraving plates. The following year Jan died and the surviving plates were dispersed.

The period between 1570 and 1670 is known as the Golden Age of Dutch Cartography and it is a measure of the Blaeu’s achievements that they were the dominant cartographers throughout most of this period. Reflecting their contemporary reputations Willem and Jan were in turn both appointed Hydrographer to the Dutch East India Company (the VOC) and their atlases were frequently presented to foreign sovereigns and potentates by the Dutch government. [MEAST4257]