Ask anyone to name a famous Dutch mapmaker and his answer will most likely be Blaeu. In the 17th century Willem Janszoon Blaeu (1571-1638) acquired a great reputation for his books of maps and atlases. His business was taken over by his son Johannes Blaeu (1596-1673), who spread the fame of the publishing house far beyond the borders of the Netherlands.
Johannes Blaeu’s most famous work is his atlas of the world, which was published in Latin, Dutch, French and German versions. The Museum Meermanno owns a copy in eleven volumes of the Latin version, the Atlas Maior, containing 600 maps of the known world at the time. The volumes were published between 1662 and 1665. Even before the atlas was bound, numerous maps from other sources were included in it.
This copy is particularly beautiful because the maps have been coloured by Dirk Janz. van Santen. In the 17th century the Netherlands was known as the country where the finest books and maps were produced. This was partly on account of the beautiful ‘decoration’ of printed matter. This refers to the practice of adding colour (which was called afzetten at the time) to maps, frontispieces, vignettes and text illustrations.
Nearly all ‘const- en caertafzetters’ [art and map ‘afzetters’] from this period have remained anonymous, Dirk Janz. van Santen being the chief exception. The Bibles and atlases that were coloured and ‘decorated’ by Van Santen were much favoured as presents among princes and kings. Poets and travellers sang the praises of his work (which was ‘painted most beautifully with indefatigable labour and at high cost’).
The Atlas Maior which Dirk Janz. van Santen executed for the Amsterdam patrician Laurens van der Hem was so widely known that high-ranking princes made special trips to Amsterdam to see it.
Baron van Westreenen bought this showpiece in 1824 at the Meerman auction. It had been acquired by Gerard Meerman in 1761 and was previously part of the library of the Utrecht professor Adriaan Reland.