Portolan map of Europe by Blaeu

Nailed to the map table in the pilothouse

Northern Europe takes up a prominent place on Blaeu's portolan map of Europe. This is remarkable, because on many 16th and 17th-century sea charts the Mediterranean has a central position. This map is made with a view to the Amsterdam trade.

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Paskaart van Blaeu, ca. 1615

The technique of this map is special: it is printed from a copperplate on to parchment, whereas at the time printing on paper was more common. Parchment is made of animal skin and therefore solid and resistant against climate factors and frequent use. Many sea charts, including the VOC ones, have a parchment 'ground'. After all, they were taken aboard a ship where they were often consulted under the most varied weather conditions.

Detail paskaart van Europa van Blaeu, ca. 1615

Most VOC maps on parchment are manuscripts. This separately published sea chart by Willem Jansz. Blaeu from circa 1615, no VOC map by the way, is also printed on parchment. The colouring is done by hand. The map measures 59 x 71.5 cm.

Cartographers from the Dutch province of North Holland

The original drawing on which the printed map is based comes from Cornelis Doedsz. from Edam. Doedsz. was one of the representatives of the North Holland school of cartographers. The 'map writers' of this school only made manuscript maps. Contacts with Amsterdam publishers led to printed edtions of a number of maps from this school. This map is a typical example.

The first edition of the map was published in 1606. This copy is a later edition, to which Spitsbergen is added on a separate inset map (bottom right) plus the ‘Ian Maijen Eijlandt’ (now Jan Mayen) situated in the northern Atlantic Ocean. This island was (re)discovered in 1614 by Joris Carolus and received its name from Jan Jacobsz. May, shipmaster on Carolus’ ship. Due to shortage of space on the map the Mediterrenean is split in two. The eastern part is put in Northern Africa 'because of the limited space the entire Mediterranean could not be shown altogether, so to be of service to the seamen we have given permission to add the rest here, lying on the coasts of the barbarians [...]'.

Detail paskaart van Europa van Blaeu, ca. 1615

Because of the limited space the entire Mediterranean could not be shown altogether, so to be of service to the seamen we have given permission to add the rest here, lying on the coasts of the barbarians

Nail-holes in the map

The condition of the map shows that it has really been used aboard a ship. The holes in the margin indicate that the map was nailed to the map table in the pilothouse. The map is quite rare. Only three other copies are known, all printed on parchment.

Author: Marco van Egmond

Detail paskaart van Europa Blaeu, ca. 1615