Aethiopia Superior vel Interior vulgo Abissinorum sive Presbiteri Joannis Imperium.
15 x 20 in (38.1 x 50.8 cm)
1 : 8800000
This is the map of the mythical Kingdom of Prester John in eastern Africa, issued by Willem Blaeu in 1635, in a beautiful original color example. 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, and its primary subject matter is that of legend.
The Kingdom of Prester John This map frames 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 named 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 later 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 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. Abraham Ortelius committed the kingdom to a printed map in 1573, and his depiction of the kingdom remained sufficiently canonical for Blaeu to produce this modernized depiction of it using his own map of Africa for a framework.
The Updated MapCartographically 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 offered here, notably the course and sources of the White Nile and its source in two great lakes, are derived from classical texts such as Ptolemy’s Geographia. The Lake of Zaire (Zembre Lacus) and Lake Zaflan, themselves appear 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.
Publication History and CensusThis map first appeared in Blaeu’s Atlas Novusin 1635, continuing to appear in that work and in Joan Blaeu’s Atlas Maior throughout the existence of the firm. This example appeared in one of the Dutch editions of Atlas Novus, as early as 1642. It is well represented in institutional collections, although examples of this quality have become difficult to find on the market.
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. Learn More...
Joan (Johannes) Blaeu (September 23, 1596 - December 21, 1673) was a Dutch cartographer active in the 17th century. Joan was the son of Willem Janszoon Blaeu, founder of the Blaeu firm. Like his father Willem, Johannes was born in Alkmaar, North Holland. He studied Law, attaining a doctorate, before moving to Amsterdam to join the family mapmaking business. In 1633, Willem arranged for Johannes to take over Hessel Gerritsz's position as the official chartmaker of the Dutch East India Company, although little is known of his work for that organization, which was by contract and oath secretive. What is known is his work supplying the fabulously wealthy VOC with charts was exceedingly profitable. Where other cartographers often fell into financial ruin, the Blaeu firm thrived. It was most likely those profits that allowed the firm to publish the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, sive, Atlas Novus, their most significant and best-known publication. When Willem Blaeu died in 1638, Johannes, along with his brother Cornelius Blaeu (1616 - 1648) took over the management of the Blaeu firm. In 1662, Joan and Cornelius produced a vastly expanded and updated work, the Atlas Maior, whose handful of editions ranged from 9 to an astonishing 12 volumes. Under the brothers' capable management, the firm continued to prosper until the 1672 Great Amsterdam Fire destroyed their offices and most of their printing plates. Johannes Blaeu, witnessing the destruction of his life's work, died in despondence the following year. He is buried in the Dutch Reformist cemetery of Westerkerk. Johannes Blaeu was survived by his son, also Johannes but commonly called Joan II, who inherited the family's VOC contract, for whom he compiled maps until 1712. Learn More...
Blaeu, W., Atlas Novus, (Amsterdam, 1642)
The classic Dutch atlas, whose publication ushered in the Dutch golden age of cartography. Willem Jansz Blaeu had been, since 1604, producing engraved maps for sale; these were separate issues (and all consequently extremely rare) until the publishing of Blaeu's Appendix in 1630 and 1631, which also included a number of maps purchased from the widow of Jodocus Hondius, (for example his famous iteration of John Smith's map of Virginia.) In 1634, he announced his intention to produce a new world atlas in two volumes, entitled Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, sive Atlas Novus (in an effort to invoke the successful work of the same title produced by Ortelius the previous century, while reinforcing the notion of it being a new work.) This work was published first in German in 1634, followed by Latin, Dutch and French editions in 1635. Blaeu's maps have always been noted for the quality of their paper, engraving and fine coloring, and this was the intent from the very start. The 1634 announcement of the upcoming work described it: 'All editions on very fine paper, completely renewed with newly engraved copperplates and new, comprehensive descriptions.' (van der Krogt, p,43) Many of the most beautiful and desirable maps available to the modern collector were printed and bound in Blaeu's atlases. Willem's son, Joan, would go on to add further volumes to the Atlas Novus, concurrently printing new editions of the first two volumes with additional maps, in effect making these new editions an entirely new book. Under Joan there would be nine Latin editions, twelve French, at least seven Dutch, and two German. This exceedingly successful work would be the mainstay of the Blaeu firm until 1661, at which point the work was supplanted by Joan Blaeu's masterwork Atlas Maior in 1662.
Excellent condition. Very faint text show through, else fine condition, superb original color with a bold, sharp strike and generous margins.
OCLC 494267174. 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.