Willem & Joan Blaeu

Several generations of the cartographer and publisher family Blaeu have decisively contributed to the international fame of Dutch cartography in the 17th century.

Willem Janszoon Blaeu

The founder of the famous printing and publishing house was Willem Janszoon Blaeu (* 1571 in Alkmaar, Niederlande; † 1638 in Amsterdam; also: Guilielmus Janssonius Caesius, Willem Jansz, Willems Jans Zoon, Guilielmus oder G. Blaeu).
Around the turn of the century he settled in Amsterdam as seller of globes and maps. In 1605 he bought a house there, whose sign, a golden sundial, became Blaeu’s cachet.

Starting in 1599 Blaeu produced globes in 5 different sizes. From 1604 his first maps were published, among them large-sized world maps and wall maps of the continents.

Blaeu moreover developed as an important publisher for sea handbooks and sea charts. This led to his appointment as official map maker of the Dutch East India Company.

Some of Blaeu’s early single maps became re-used in the „Atlantis Appendix“ (1630). However, the most maps printed in this work have been produced by the copper plates which had been sold to Blaeu by Jodocus Hondius. The atlas was published again in 1631 in an extended version which caused Blaeu’s competitors Henricus Hondius and Johann Janssonius to publish similar works too.

Thereupon, a heavy competition started in the atlas production of Amsterdam. With every edition it was tried to surpass the work that was last published by the rivals.

In 1634 Blaeu’s large “Atlas Novus” was published, first in German, later also in Dutch and French.

Joan Blaeu

The lifework of Willem Blaeu was continued after his death by 2 of his 4 sons: Joan Blaeu (*1596 - † 1673) and Cornelis (*1610 - † 1642).
After the early death of Cornelis, Joan Blaeu managed the publishing house alone.

Between 1640 and 1655, four further editions of the “Atlas Novus” were published, growing from 2 volumes in the first edition to 6 in the last one, among them the first atlas of Scotland.

A downright monumental project was realised by J.Blaeu with the publication of the „Atlas Maior“ in 1662, which was first printed in Latin. The impressive work comprised 11 volumes with about 600 maps. Up to 1667 it was also published in French, Dutch, Spanish and German. The “Atlas Maior” is considered a masterwork of Dutch printing art and cartography.

Besides the production of atlases, J.Blaeu was also successful as publisher of town books containing views of predominantly Dutch and Italian cities.

In February 1672, the Blaeu workshop was destroyed by a devastating fire. The majority of printing presses, copper plates, books and paper were lost. In the following year, on December 28th of 1673 Joan Blaeu died, aged 75. The management of the printing house was taken over by one of his sons, Joan II.

In 1698 the famous „Typographia Blaviana“ was finally sold in 3 auctions and so ceased to exist after almost 100 years.