A Dutch view of the European coasts

Many Italian sea charts from the 16th and 17th centuries depict the area of focus for Italian traders, namely the Mediterranean Sea. However, this chart, which was published in Amsterdam, clearly offers an indication of the scope of the Dutch sphere of interest.

As can only be expected, Northern Europe occupies a much more prominent place. The Mediterranean Sea is divided into two parts due to a lack of space. The eastern section is positioned in North Africa 'overmidts dat om de cleijne plaetse wille de geheele Middelantsche Zee alhier niet aen malcanderen en heeft mogen volgen, soo hebben wij nochtans tot dienste van de Zeevaerders goet gevonden de reste oock hier bij te voeghen, die leggende binnen de custen van Barbarijen [...]'.

Printed on vellum

A special aspect of this chart is the technology that went into its making – it was printed on vellum using a copper plate. At the time, printing on vellum was much less common than printing on paper. Created from animal skin, vellum is strong and withstands weather and frequent use well. For this reason, many nautical charts, including those of the Dutch East India Company, have a parchment base. After all, they were taken on board ships where they were used intensively and exposed to all kinds of weather.

Incidentally, almost all Dutch East India Company vellum charts were drawn by hand. This chart on vellum was published independently around 1615 by Willem Jansz. Blaeu. It is therefore not a Dutch East India Company chart. The chart was coloured in by hand and measures 59 cm x 71.5 cm.

North Holland mapmakers

The original drawing, on which the printed map is based, is by Cornelis Doedsz. in Edam, who was part of the North Holland school of mapmakers. The ‘caertschrijvers’ of this school only produced manuscript charts. Contacts with publishers in Amsterdam resulted in printed editions of a number of charts by this school. This chart is a typical example.

The first edition of the chart was published in 1606. This copy is a later edition to which Spitsbergen was added on a separate additional chart (bottom right) plus the ‘Ian Maijen Eijlandt’ (now Jan Mayen) located in the northern Atlantic Ocean. This island was discovered – or rather rediscovered – in 1614 by Joris Carolus and acquired its name from Jan Jacobsz. May, skipper on Carolus’ ship.

Nails in the chart

Judging by the chart's condition, it was clearly used on board a ship. The holes along the margins show where it was nailed to the chart table in the wheel house.

The chart is quite rare. There are only three known copies, all of which are printed on parchment.

Further reading

[ca. 1615]
MvE, 2011
Chart of Europe, Willem Jansz. Blaeu, [ca. 1615]
Chart of Europe, Willem Jansz. Blaeu, [ca. 1615] (detail)
Chart of Europe, Willem Jansz. Blaeu, [ca. 1615] (detail)

In deze Pascaerte hebdy alle de Zeecusten van geheel Europa (Kaart: VIII.N.d.2); Amsterdam : Willem Jansz. Blaeu, ca. 1615