• Joan Blaeu


    Joan Blaeu was born September 23, 1596 in Amsterdam. He was the son of cartographer Willem Blaeu. Joan studied law at the University of Leiden and became a doctor of law in 1620. He Joined his father in the business in the 1630’s. Although his father Willem had cartographic interests, his primary business was as a printer and having manufactured globes and instruments, It was under the control of Joan that the Blaeu printing press achieved lasting fame by moving towards the printing of maps and expanding to become the largest printing press in Europe in the 17th century.

    Joan and his brother Cornelius (1610-1648) took over the studio after their father had died in 1629. With the growing competition in publishing sea charts and pilot books, and recognizing that the quality of the volumes from Blaeu's magnificent atlas was far better than the others published to that date. The Blaeu firm offered to their wealthy patrons luxury bindings, fine engraving, bright color and beautiful typography. Such atlases were primarily used in display, for illustrated purposes almost for advertising or speculation for business purposes. 

    By the 1660s the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum or Atlas Majorhad grown to between 9 and 12 volumes, depending on the language. Over 3,000 text pages and approximately 600 maps, and it was the probably the most expensive book in the later 17th century. The translation of the text from Latin into Dutch, English, German, French & Spanish for each of the volumes created an enormous amount of work for those involved in typesetting and the printing house. It is estimated that over 80 men must have been employed full-time in the Blaeu printing house not including engravers who worked elsewhere, with over 15 printing presses running at the same time. In 1667 a second press was acquired. Blaeu was also publishing town plans of Italy, maps for globes, and other volumes at the same time they were producing the Atlas Major. At its height the Blaeu press managed to produce over 1 million impressions from 1,000 copper plates within four years. 

    Joan married in 1634, and had three sons and three daughters. He was made chief cartographer to the Dutch East India Company in 1638 and from 1651 to 1672 he served on the Amsterdam City Council. He also invested in Dutch colonial interests in North America.This growth coincided with all of his success mirrored this period of prosperity for Amsterdam and the Low Countries
    A cosmology was planned as their next project, but a fire destroyed the studio completely in 1672. It is unclear how the fire started but it is clear that the damage was enormous, destroying not only thousands of paper sheets and printed maps, but also copper plates and metal for type, both of which melted in the heat. Even though his other press continued, the loss must have been considerable. Joan Blaeu died in the following year. on May 28, 1673 in Amsterdam.

    Joan Blaeu II his 22-year-old son was in control of the company.The Blaeu press continued to publish maps and other works, but its heyday was over, and the firm ceased operations in the early years of the 18th century. Many of his surviving copper plates were sold, particularly to Pieter Mortier and Frederick de Wit. 

    List of publications

    1631- Appendix Thearei A Ortelii at Atlantis G. Mercatoris, Amsterdam. 117 maps & text
    1643- Novus Atlas 161 maps with german text
    1635 - Theatrum Orbis Terrarum sive Atlas Novus,2 volumes, four editions with text in Latin, Dutch, German & French.
    1640 - Theatrum,3 Volumes, Four editions: Latin, Dutch, German & French
    1640-1645 - Theatrum,4 Volumes, Four editions: Latin, Dutch, German & French
    1648-1654 - Theatrum,5 Volumes: Latin, Dutch, German & French
    1648-1658 - Theatrum,6 Volumes: Latin, Dutch, German, Spanish & French
    1662- Atlas Major Latin text, 11 volumes. French text, 12 volumes. Dutch text, 9 volumes. Spanish text, 10 volumes. German text, 9 Volumes


    R.V. Tooleys, Maps and Mapmakers, Pont Maps, National Library of Scotland, article written by Christopher Fleet.