Willem Janzoon Blaeu and Joan Blaeu

Willem Janszoon Blaeu (1571-1638) born at Alkmaar, trained in astronomy and the sciences by Tycho Brahe, the Danish astronomer, founded his business in Amsterdam in 1599. Originally a globe and instrument maker, he later expanded into publishing maps, topographical works and books of sea charts. He bought between 30 and 40 plates of the Mercator Atlas from Jodocus Hondius II which he utilized in part, in 1630, to complete his Atlantis Appendix, a 60-map volume. It was another five years before the first two volumes of his planned world atlas, Atlas Novus or the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum were issued. At about this same time he was appointed Hydrographer to the East India Company. A true rivalry developed between Willem and Jan Jansson.  Before 1620, Blaeu signed his works Guilielmus Janssonius or Willems Jans Zoon. From 1620 onward, he apparently preferred Guilielmus or G. Blaeu.

After his death the business passed into the hands of his sons, Joan (1596-1673) and Cornelis, who continued and expanded their father’s ambitious plans. After the death of Cornelis, Joan directed the work alone and the whole series of 6 volumes of Atlas Novuswas eventually completed about 1655. As soon as it was finished, Joan began the preparation of the even larger work, the Atlas Major, which was first published in 1662 in 11 volumes.  Later editions contained between 9 and12 volumes and with nearly 600 double-page maps and 3,000 pages of text. This was the most magnificent work of its kind ever produced.

Following a serious fire in his Gravenstadt house and Joan’s death 1673, the firm’s surviving stocks of plates and maps were sold, some to Frederick de Wit, Pieter Schenk and Gerard Valck.

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