Blaeu’s Atlas Maior

Blaeu atlasJoan Blaeu began publishing atlases with his father Williem Blaeu in Amsterdam in 1635. After Williem’s death in 1638, Joan continued to publish new atlas editions on his own. The Altlas Maior was his final and grandest atlas project. It was published in multi-volume sets between 1662 and 1665, with versions in Latin, French, Dutch, German, and Spanish. It was the largest and most expensive book published in the 17th century, containing over 600 maps.

Washington University Libraries’ Blaeu Atlas was a gift of Eric P. Newman and contains the last two volumes (volumes 8-9) of the Dutch version of the Atlas. Included in this edition are 18 maps of Spain, 14 of Africa, 16 of Asia, and 28 of America. It is currently on permanent display in the new Newman Exploration Center on the A Level of Olin Library.

A page from Washington University Libraries’ Atlas Maior by Joan Blaeu, 1665. On display in the Newman Exploration Center.

Due to the large number of maps, the beautiful hand coloring, and the quality of the materials and typography, Blaeu’s atlas was considered a status symbol among the wealthy. Purchasers often might further embellish their sets with custom binding, further gilding and coloring, or a specially made storage cabinet.

When you visit the Exploration Center, you will notice that the maps in the Atlas are brilliantly colored. Unlike a painting of the same age, these pages have not been exposed to light and air for extended periods of time, preserving the pigments in the ink. wW will be periodically turning the pages for both preservation and viewing purposes, so check back to see different maps.