Joan Blaeu's Nova totius terrarum orbis tabula (1648)
Explore a 17th-century cartographic masterpiece
Currently on View
In 1648, the Amsterdam-based publisher Joan Blaeu (1596–1673) started selling a map that stands as one of early modern Europe's greatest cartographic achievements. Measuring nearly 7 x 10 feet and requiring 21 sheets of paper printed with copperplates and 10 printed with movable type, it depicts the entire world as two hemispheres, with many details based on recent observations from trade and colonization efforts.
At its size and price, copies of Blaeu's map would have been destined almost exclusively for the walls of the affluent and powerful. Some of its first owners were probably merchants of the Dutch East India Company, who from their homes in Northern Europe could look at it and picture the far-off sources of their wealth and the routes that were bringing it to them and their countrymen. Owners likely used the map to show off to visitors their own status as men and women of the world, too.
At the Ransom Center is one of three copies representing the first state of Blaeu's engraved plates that survive intact. It came here along with numerous other early maps, atlases, and globes in 1969—all purchased from the same New York bookseller, H. P. Kraus. Kraus's own source for this copy and its early history, however, remain obscure.
Because of its precarious condition, the Center was unable to display the 1648 Blaeu in its galleries. In 2018, we began a multi-phase conservation treatment project to stabilize and frame it. Our team started by examining and documenting every inch of its physical structure. Among other things, conservation and exhibition staff undertook technical analysis of the paper, linen backing, colorants, and adhesives—and the interactions between them. An extensive conservation treatment followed, and we worked with an outside vendor to design and build a custom frame for display and long-term storage. It has also been newly digitized, as you can see below.
The following sections discuss four aspects of the Blaeu map associated with our analysis and treatment. Many questions about its life are still unanswered—in fact, we probably now have more questions than we started with—but there are clues that point toward a multi-layered backstory.
Aaron T. Pratt
Carl and Lily Pforzheimer Curator
of Early Books and Manuscripts