This map of Middlesex is by Joan Blaeu (1598-1673), arguably the most famous of the Dutch cartographers. 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. At its peak 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.
Joan Blaeu’s father Willem established his firm in 1599 as instrument and globe makers. He went on to produce some of the highest quality atlases ever published. 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. Goedings, Truusje (1992) ‘Master Colourist Dirk Jansz. Van Santen 1637/38-1708’; Koeman Bl 60A p. 281; Van der Krogt, P. (Atlantes) 5281:2; Skelton (1970) 28 & 73.