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Jan Blaeu: Chekiang, Imperii Sinarum Provincia Decima

Map: SEAS5057
Cartographer: Jan Blaeu
Title: Chekiang, Imperii Sinarum Provincia Decima
Date: 1655
Published: Amsterdam
Width: 19 inches / 49 cm
Height: 16 inches / 41 cm
Map ref: SEAS5057
The provice of Zhejiang in eastern China. The region's capital of Hangzhou (here marked as 'Hangcheu') and many other smaller cities are identified and labeled according to their size and status from metropolis to small town. Gold, silver, and lead mines are also marked on the map with little flag symbols.

This is one of 17 maps published in Blaeu's Novus Atlas Sinensis, the first Western atlas of China. The maps were compiled by Father Martino Martini, a Jesuit friar who spent many years in China, was fluent in Mandarin, and had studied a number of ancient chinese maps and atlases. During a return journey from China to Rome in 1654, his ship was captured by the Dutch and he was sent to Amsterdam where he met Jan Blaeu. Martini showed Blaeu his writings about China and convinced him to publish them in an atlas along with a series of maps of the Chinese provinces. The detailed descriptions on the back of the maps are based on Martini's own observations.

In typical Blaeu fashion, the maps in the Atlas Sinensis are beautifully decorated with large, elaborate cartouches. These often include detailed illustrations of Chinese citizens in traditional dress engaged in ordinary day-to-day activities, such as rice harvesting or playing games. This map's cartouche shows a Chinese man engaged in 'silk reeling', a delicate process in which the silk worm's cocoon is slowly and carefully unwound onto a spool.

Spanish descriptive text on verso (image available on request). Original hand-colour. [SEAS5057]

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.