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The Mapping of North America

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BLAEU, Joan

Britannia Prout Divisa fuit Temporibus Anglo-Saxonum, Praesertim Durante Illorum Heptarchia

Amsterdam, 1645-[62]
410 x 530 mm., early wash colour with extra gilt to the arms on the map and both side panels and blue wash to the sea, lower centrefold split not affecting the images, repaired, minor paper crease, otherwise in good condition.
This map is generally considered one of the most decorative maps of the British Isles ever published. Here it is offered in EXTRA FINE COLOURING WITH EXTENSIVE USE OF GOLD. During the seventeenth century the Dutch held a dominant position in the production of high quality atlases. One of the more visual aspects of this was the reputation of its colourists. As the production matured certain colourists began to produce work of an exceptional nature. Arguably the most famous of these was Dirk Jansz. Van Santen (1637/38-1708). Goedings made a study of his work in 1992. Although we are not stating that this is an example of his colouring many of his traits are repeated in this work. Goedings reports that “Fontaine Verwey is of the opinion that Van Santen coloured atlases in three different ways: colouring without gold; gold just for the legends, cartouches, coats of-arms and decorative motifs of a map; and gold on the maps themselves, for frontiers, cities, etc.”. About the only trait not found in this collection of maps is that of extending the foreground or background of the cartouches.

The style of colouring is described by Goedings as “signified by rich and exotic colour combinations, added elements such as flowers to clothing, marbling to masonry”. He “applied transparent and opaque colours at the same time in both mixed and pure tints. He often painted the whole surface of the map or illustration, transforming the graphic light and dark contrasts into colour … He applied his characteristic shiny varnish, this had the effect of brightening the colour, frequently making use of the same colour progression … His use of colour was much freer than that of other colourists. The tone of the colours was made to complement the gold he used so lavishly. In his best work two other costly pigments, ultramarine and carmine are found in large amounts, mostly set against gold. Ultramarine and gold were a very popular colour combination in the seventeenth century … Moreover, he added elements to the design, such as patterns and flower motifs to the clothing of figures, veining of stones or map frontier lines … Van Santen applied transparent and opaque colours at the same time in both mixed and pure tints … Above all things Van Santen distinguished himself from his contemporaries in his lavish use of gold which he applied meticulously. On maps he applied gold not only to the decorative motifs, the legends, cartouches and coats-of-arms, but he also worked it decoratively into the map itself.”

Goedings goes on to describe Van Santens use of ‘shell gold’. “Gold leaf was available in small booklets of approximately 5 x 5 centimetres containing a number of very thin sheets of gold. A 17th century method of making shell gold from gold leaf was to grind it on a rubbing stone along with honey, water and salt and then to wash it in very clean water. The small amount of liquid gold was then placed in a shell and vinegar was added to it. The vinegar assured a good consistency … Needless to say, this high quality shell gold was very expensive and must have been paid for by the customers of large, prestigious projects, as in the case of Van der Hem. Seventeenth century instructions for applying gold to paper have been preserved and give an indication of the complexity of this treatment. In all likelihood, Van Santen had developed his own method for applying gold to paper … As far as one can tell with the naked eye, he first put on a yellow base before using a brush to apply the gold. Scientific tests might make it possible to determine more about Van Santen’s characteristic use of material, particularly about his use of gold. This could make it easier to identify his work.” All of these traits can be seen on these particular examples, however we cannot say who the colourist is.

This particular map is derived from that of John Speed first published in 1611, this version by Joan Blaeu is usually in the most magnificent original colour. It depicts Britain at the time of the Saxon Kingdoms displaying their boundaries and coats of arms. The seven kingdoms are Northumbria, Mercia, East Anglia, Essex, Kent, Sussex and Wessex. With an ornate title cartouche, the map is adorned by superb side panels illustrating the history of the Anglo-Saxon period. Blaeu’s first topographical atlas appeared in 1630 in one volume and was gradually expanded. By 1640 the ‘Atlas Novus’ as it was then entitled was in three volumes and contained just 4 British Isles maps. His chief rival, the Hondius-Jansson atlas contained 18 maps. Both joined in a race to make their fourth volumes a complete atlas of the British Isles. Blaeu was first, publishing his magnificent work in 1645, one year before that of Jansson’s. The work of Blaeu set a standard of design, beauty and quality that arguably has never been surpassed. This example is from the rare final Spanish text issue of the ‘Atlas Major’ whose production was interrupted by the great fire at the Blaeu publishing house in 1672. The most desirable map in the volume is this one offered here. Goedings, Truusje (1992) ‘Master Colourist Dirk Jansz. Van Santen 1637/38-1708’; Koeman Bl 60A p. 281; Krogt (1997-2010) 5000H:2B; Shirley (1991) 549; Skelton (1970) 28 & 73.
Stock number: 8852

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