A Magnificent Map


Submitted 2 years ago
Created by
Paul Maravelias ‘17

At the height of the mid-17th century Golden Era of the Dutch Republic, a distinct cartographer by the name of Joan Blaeu surpassed the work of all his contemporaries (such as Janssonius and Frederick de Wit) by releasing the stunning Atlas Maior – an eleven-volume exploration of earth’s geography as it was known to Dutch merchants in the 1660s.

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Blaeu’s impressive magnum opus adopts the typical stylistic aspects of Baroque-era excess and ornamentation. Its 594 hand-painted maps and illustrations, ostentatious two-foot vertical dimension, and effusive Latinate braggadocio amounted to the most expensive and physically largest book of the entire seventeenth century (with a modern equivalent price of about $18,000).

I analyzed the eleventh volume (the Americas) for a final project in Italian 23 (17th Century Italian literature), translating parts of Blaeu’s Latin text. Notable subjectivities and mercantilistic slants are evident both in the physical, cartographic representations of America as well as in his anthropological, textual descriptions: Blaeu had close ties to the Dutch West Indian Company and the lucrative business they conducted through what many modern commenters would consider exploitation of indigenous people.

The map of Bermuda offers a neutral example of such subjective distortion of reality. The shockingly accurate coastline of the fifteen-mile-wide Atlantic island is portrayed as lying a mere stone’s throw from the idealized American east coast, with “Virginia,” “Cape Cod”, and “New England” separately dragged hundreds of miles from their true position for conceptual emphasis of the island’s general relative location. A quaint juxtaposition of cartographic realism and subjective idealization results.

To see it, ask for volume 11 of Blaeu's Geographia, Rare G1015.B48 1662.

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