Explanation of the digital exhibition 'Maps of Holland and Utrecht'

Cartographers are only human. They sometimes make mistakes and they also like to copy each other. Things were no different in the 16th century. In 1595, the Antwerper Filips Galle published a map of the regions of Holland for the pocket atlas Epitome, an abbreviated version of Abraham Ortelius’ famous world atlas. On this map, although splendidly engraved, the river Vecht flows from Utrecht to Amsterdam instead of to Muiden. Furthermore, the island Putten, in southern Holland, is completely missing. A few years later, in 1601, another Antwerper, Johannes Keerbergen, brought a competing pocket atlas on the market. For his atlas, Keerbergen made, among others, a faithful copy of the map of Holland. So faithful, in fact, that even the mistakes of the river Vecht and the island Putten were assimilated!

To the digital exhibition
Kaart van Holland door Keerbergen, 1609

Many other examples of such copying behaviour can be found in the collection Maps of Holland and Utrecht. On this website, the Utrecht University Library displays approximately 120 maps of the provinces Holland and Utrecht from the period 1558-1882 that were donated to the library by a private owner. They present a striking picture of the cartographical and geographical development of the Dutch main economic region.

Prototypes and reproductions

Almost all maps of Holland can be traced back to three prototypes: the maps of Jacob van Deventer (1542), Balthasar Florisz. van Berckenrode (1629) and Nicolaas Visscher II (ca. 1690). One will encounter reproductions of all these prototypes on the website, as well as the prototype itself from Visscher. Noteworthy items are, for example, the woodcut maps of Holland from five different editions of Sebastian Münsters Cosmographei; the first reproductions of the region map of Van Deventer. Abraham Ortelius also used this map, together with the region map of Zeeland from 1547, for the rendering of the province in his atlas Theatrum orbis terrarum. Characteristic of the reproductions of Van Deventer, are the empty areas of Friesland and eastern Brabant. In these areas of Van Deventer’s map, portions of text can be found. As was mentioned in the introduction, his small pocket atlases were a reduction of the map of Ortelius. One striking fact is that many 16th and early 17th century maps of Holland contain an image, or at least a notation, of the contours of the ruins of the former Roman fortress Brittenburg. The remains of this fortress were said to have been seen when the water level was low on several occasions in 1520, 1552, 1562, 1571 and 1588. That this fact appears decennia later on a multitude of maps proves the significant impact that the observations of that time had on public opinion.

Kaart van Holland, Abraham Ortelius, 1570

A new map image of Holland

It was not until 1621, when Willem Jansz. Blaeu published the wall map of Van Berckenrode, that a truly new map image of Holland came to the forefront. Van Berckenrode based important portions of this map on the ‘hoogheemraadschaps’ maps of Delfland, Schieland and Rijnland (1611-1615) that were published by him and his father. In 1629, Henricus Hondius allowed a copy of Van Berckenrode’s wall map to be made. Four map sections of Holland were produced, which could be included in an atlas or mounted together to form a wall map. In the same year, Hondius produced a reduced scale copy of this wall map in folio size, which became very influential during the rest of the 17th century. This folio map, Comitatus Hollandiæ, which was engraved by Salomon Rogiers, is part of the collection ‘Digitized Maps’, as well as the later reproductions by Marcus Zuerius Boxhorn (1632), Jacob Aertsz. Colom (1635), Cornelis Danckerts Jr. (1636), Claes Jansz. Visscher and Visscher I (1652), Caspar Merian (1654) and Frederick de Wit (ca. 1670). Typical characteristics of the majority of these maps are the Dutch coat of arms centred at the top, the inset map of the Wadden Islands at the upper right and the scroll with the lions’ image at the lower left.

Kaart van Holland, Balthasar Florisz. van Berckenrode & Henricus Hondius, 1629 (1633/1639)

Visscher’s large atlas map

At the end of the 17th century, a new prototype map of Holland was introduced into the market: the two page map Hollandiæ Comitatus from Visscher II, the only prototype that is included in the collection ‘Digitized Maps’. The map’s orientation to the north and the enlarged image of the eastern area are distinctive features. The larger format for an atlas map is also distinctive. In the case of inclusion in an atlas, the map was to be folded at the top and right-hand side. Visscher incorporated a variety of new topographical details based on the contemporary regional detail maps, among which the ‘hoogheemraadschap’ maps of Rijnland (1647) and the Uitwaterende Sluizen (1680). This map was influential during the entire 18th century. The maps of Caspar Specht (1704 and 1725), François Halma (1725), Erven Homann (1733), Isaak Tirion (1739), Matthäus Seutter (ca. 1741), Johann Michael Probst (1791), Franz Ludwig Güssefeld (1791) and Johannes Covens & Zoon (1792), all digitized, can be traced directly or indirectly back to that of Visscher II.

Kaart van Holland, Nicolaas Visscher II, ca. 1690 (ca. 1696)

Utrecht in historical-cartographic perspective

The cartographical historiography of the province Utrecht is less interesting than that of of Holland. It was not until 1599 that the province of Utrecht received a survey map, which was composed by the pastor and adminstrator Cornelis Anthonisz. Hornhovius. He likely conducted little surveying work for this task and made use of several basic maps that have not been preserved. Hornhovius’ map was not a high-level cartographical product and it was of little influence. However, in the 17th century there was a reproduction in folio format by Pieter van den Keere (1617), among others, that served as a model for the reduced scale (and now digitized) publication by Jan Evertsz. Cloppenburgh (1632). In 1696, the map of Hornhovius was ultimately replaced by the new wall map of Utrecht by the surveyor Bernard de Roij. The digitized map of François Halma (1725) assimilates, for example, elements of De Roij’s map. In the 19th century, Utrecht received a well-formed four page survey map on the scale of 1:50.000, which was composed with the assistance of primarily cadastral details provided by Jan Hendrik Kips (1850). In 1892, this document was followed by another four page map using the same scale from the Utrecht workshop of J. van Druten. Both maps can be admired on the website.

Kaart van de provincie Utrecht, J. van Druten, 1882


The maps of Holland and Utrecht are not only noteworthy due to their position as prototypes or reproductions, but also because there are several special and rare maps in the collection. For example, the website shows the third version (post 1593) of the map of Holland by Gerard de Jode. Utrecht has the only known copy worldwide of this map. The same is true of the second version of the previously mentioned folio map Comitatus Hollandiæ by Hondius, which was engraved by Rogiers. This version from 1641 was quickly, in 1647, replaced by a new atlas map of Holland. Another very rare map is the beautiful map of Holland by Blaeu which was published by Rombout van den Hoeye (ca. 1650). No more than three copies of this individually published map are known to exist.

Kaart van Holland, Willem Jansz. Blaeu en Rombout van den Hoeye, 1608 (ca. 1650)

‘Low points’

Beside these rather unique highlights, the collection of digitized maps of Holland and Utrecht, also contains many ‘low points’, figuratively speaking. These are primarily numerous examples of incorrectly drawn or outdated renderings of lakes and ponds, some of which had been drained. In the introduction, it was already made clear that the copying behaviour of the map makers could be to blame for the presence of mistakes in a map image. The representations of the numerous drained and man-made ponds in the Holland-Utrecht area illustrate this point. In more than one instance, the map image was in conflict with reality. Sometimes an existing body of water was drawn as a drained parcel of land and sometimes the opposite was true. The Horster and Naarder lakes created the most problems for the cartographers of Utrecht maps. After several futile attempts in the prior two centuries, the Horster lake was definitively drained at the end of the 19th century, while the attempts for draining the Naarder lake were in vain again. Many mapmakers thought significantly different about this…

‘Hanidda’ in the Hoekse Waard?

Detail Hannida kaart Coronelli, 1706

In the process of copying many significant mistakes were made. The map of Holland from 1706 by Vincenzo Coronelli, offers one last striking example. On this map, in the Hoekse Waard, one encounters the inexplicable toponym ‘Hanidda’. Coronelli adopted this incorrect name from Tassin, who spoke of the also mysterious ‘Hamsda’. Tassin came across this name while examining the map of Goos, who actually placed the word ‘Hansdam’ by a small circle on the opposite side of the Oude Maas. Goos adopted this from the map of Willem Jansz. Blaeu from 1608, which used ‘H.Iansdam’ or rather, Heerjansdam! The website ‘Digitized Maps of Holland and Utrecht’ proves, in a confronting and perhaps somewhat disheartening way, that cartography was and is, simply the work of man!


The sub collection of maps of Holland and Utrecht is presented, as much as possible, in chronological order, noting that the maps of Holland appear before the maps of Utrecht. Each map image is accompanied by an extensive document description. This description contains the title, author, scale, publisher, technique, measurements and, of course, the bibliographic details so that the map can be located in the library. In addition, each map contains a comprehensive scientific explanation, which includes the place that the map occupies in the development of the cartography of Holland and Utrecht. References to relevant literature are included where necessary. The descriptions and explanations are prepared by dr. M. van Egmond, curator of the Map Collection of the Faculty of Geosciences at the University of Utrecht.

Closing remarks

In closing: the previous argumentation has presented commercial map makers as being fanatic copiers that reuse the needed incorrect information in their maps. The question remains as to whether or not this is a stereotype. In that time, cartographers did not have aerial photos and had to trust the largely outdated cartographical information of third parties. New measurements were far too expensive for commercial publishers and therefore, new map images were not quickly introduced into the market. Considering the limitations, the map products of that time certainly deserve their due respect for the contributions they made. The mistakes and inconsistencies, well, they just give the modern day historic cartographers something to sink their teeth into!


Kaart van Holland, Sebastian Münster, 1578