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Details 1635 Blaeu Map of Central Africa - Kingdom of Prester John
1635 (undated) $950.00

1635 Blaeu Map of Central Africa - Kingdom of Prester John

Aethiopia Superior vel Interior vulgo Abissinorum sive Presbiteri Joannis Imperium. - Main View

1635 Blaeu Map of Central Africa - Kingdom of Prester John


Shows the mythical Kingdom of Prester John in Abyssinia.


Aethiopia Superior vel Interior vulgo Abissinorum sive Presbiteri Joannis Imperium.
  1635 (undated)     15 x 20 in (38.1 x 50.8 cm)


A fascinating map of central Africa issued by Willem Janszoon Blaeu in 1635. The map covers from the Bight of Benin to the Indian Ocean and from Arabia and the Red Sea to Mozambique. It includes two decorative cartouches as well as stylized images of African fauna, including elephants, monkeys, and ostriches. While the African coast exhibits considerable advances over earlier maps of the region, the interior of Africa exhibits a cartography primarily based on the literature of antiquity and little changed from the days of Ptolemy. Superimposed on these speculative lands is the legendary Kingdom of Prester John (Presbiteri Ioannis) – a persistent and popular figure in european folklore.

The legend of Prester John dates to about 1145 when a Syrian priest name Hugh traveled to europe to canvas for a fifth Crusade. Hugh described Prester John as a great Christian king whose empire was located somewhere in India – the idea being that the two great Christian empires, that of John and that of the Pope, would together make war on the Saracens occupying the Holy Land, thus sandwiching the enemy between their two indomitable armies. About 20 years letter a curious letter began to circulate around europe, purportedly by John himself, wherein the mythical King claimed to be some 562 years old and the ruler of the Three Indias. 'India' at this time referred not just to the subcontinent, but to much of southern Asia. It was divided into three parts, Farther India or what is today India and Southeast Asia, Nearer India or the modern day Middle east, and Middle India or the parts of Africa to the east of the Nile River. Having failed to pinpoint the Kingdom of Prester John in Asia, scholars as early as the 14th century began locating John's Kingdom in east Africa. Here they had a bit luck for explorers in the region, starting with the Francisco Alveres of Portugal in the 1500s, soon came into to contact with the Christian Solomonic Kings of ethiopia or Abyssinia. The Coptic ethiopian emperor David II fit the mold of the 'Prester John,' and Alveres believed him to be a descendent of the legendary John, thus firmly entrenching the mythical kingdom Prester John on maps of east Africa well into the 18th century.

Cartographically this map is derived from Blaeu's own 1608 wall map of Africa – one of the most important maps of the continent ever drawn. Most of the interior details offers here are derived from classical texts such as the Geographia of Ptolemy. The map follows the Ptolemaic model with regard to the course of the White Nile and its source in two great lakes – the Zaire Lacus (Zembre Lacus) and the Zaflan Lacus, themselves in the foothills of the Mountains of the Moon or Lunae Montes, located at the base of the map. The Blue Nile, which has its source is modern day ethiopia, is expressed as a complex network of rivers and valleys bearing little resemblance to reality – though the observer will note that many of the place names, Amara, Tigre, Dobas, and Dangali, do in fact reflect real places and are still in use today. Blaeu also draws a lake at the source of the Niger River, set just north of the West African Kingdom of Biafara, but fails to properly connect the river to its southern extension – which is vaguely noted.

An altogether wonderful map of Africa. Published in the Latin edition of Bleau's Atlas Major.


Willem Janszoon Blaeu (1571 - October 18, 1638), also known as Guillaume Blaeu and Guiljelmus Janssonius Caesius, was a Dutch cartographer, globemaker, and astronomer active in Amsterdam during the late 16th and early 17th centuries. Blaeu was born 'Willem Janszoon' in Alkmaar, North Holland to a prosperous herring packing and trading family of Dutch Reformist faith. As a young man, he was sent to Amsterdam to apprentice in the family business, but he found the herring trade dull and instead worked for his cousin 'Hooft' as a carpenter and clerk. In 1595, he traveled to the small Swedish island of Hven to study astronomy under the Danish Enlightenment polymath Tycho Brahe. For six months he studied astronomy, cartography, instrument making, globe making, and geodesy. He returned to Alkmaar in 1596 to marry and for the birth of his first son, Johannes (Joan) Blaeu (1596 – 1673). Shortly thereafter, in 1598 or 1599, he relocated his family to Amsterdam where he founded the a firm as globe and instrument makers. Many of his earliest imprints, from roughly form 1599 - 1633, bear the imprint 'Guiljelmus Janssonius Caesius' or simply 'G: Jansonius'. In 1613, Johannes Janssonius, also a mapmaker, married Elizabeth Hondius, the daughter of Willem's primary competitor Jodocus Hondius the Elder, and moved to the same neighborhood. This led to considerable confusion and may have spurred Willam Janszoon to adopt the 'Blaeu' patronym. All maps after 1633 bear the Guiljelmus Blaeu imprint. Around this time, he also began issuing separate issue nautical charts and wall maps – which as we see from Vermeer's paintings were popular with Dutch merchants as decorative items – and invented the Dutch Printing Press. As a non-Calvinist Blaeu was a persona non grata to the ruling elite and so he partnered with Hessel Gerritsz to develop his business. In 1619, Blaeu arranged for Gerritsz to be appointed official cartographer to the VOC, an extremely lucrative position that that, in the slightly more liberal environment of the 1630s, he managed to see passed to his eldest son, Johannes. In 1633, he was also appointed official cartographer of the Dutch Republic. Blaeu's most significant work is his 1635 publication of the Theatrum orbis terrarum, sive, Atlas Novus, one of the greatest atlases of all time. He died three years later, in 1638, passing the Blaeu firm on to his two sons, Cornelius (1616 - 1648) and Johannes Blaeu (September 23, 1596 - December 21, 1673). Under his sons, the firm continued to prosper until the 1672 Great Fire of Amsterdam destroyed their offices and most of their printing plates. Willem's most enduring legacy was most likely the VOC contract, which ultimately passed to Johannes' son, Johannes II, who held the position until 1617. As a hobbyist astronomer, Blaeu discovered the star now known as P. Cygni. More by this mapmaker...


Blaeu, W., Atlas Major, (Amsterdam) Latin Edition, 1635.    


Very good. Mild toning. Original centerfold. Latin text on verso. Old Color.


Van der Krogt, P. C. J., Koeman's Atlantes Neerlandici, (3 Vols), 8720:2. Goss, J., Blaeu's The Grand Atlas of the 17th Century World, pp. 152-53.