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The Fascinating Town Atlas of the Netherlands

During the mid-17th century the Dutch mapmaker Joan Blaeu published an atlas that contains finely engraved maps of the major cities of the Netherlands. In 1649 Joan Blaeu published the first edition of the atlas in Latin, in 1652 he published the second edition in Dutch. The title of the atlas Toonneel der steden van de Vereenighde Nederlanden  translates to Theatre of the Cities of the United Netherlands.

Joan Blaeu was the son of the mapmaker Willem Janszoon Blaeu. Willem Blaeu founded his map publishing company in 1596. The Blaeu publishing house was very successful. In 1633 Willem Blaeu was appointed the official mapmaker to the Dutch East India Company. Willem passed away in 1638 and his sons Joan and Cornelius inherited the family publishing firm. Joan became the sole head of the company after Cornelius died at a young age. In addition to the Toonneel der Steden Joan Blaeu also published the Atlas Maior, a multi-volume world atlas.

Joan Blaeu’s town atlas includes images of important buildings, coats of arms, fortifications, and descriptive texts. Featured in this post are images of a few maps and illustrations from the Toonneel der Steden.

Below is a map of Veere in the Province of Zeeland. During the 17th and 18th centuries Veere served as an important trading port for Scotland. Scottish wool was imported to Veere. Wine, leather, and ammunition were some of the products that were exported from Veere to Scotland.

A map of the town of Veere.

Veere. Published by Joan Blaeu, 1652. Geography and Map Division.

The atlas contains plans of forts, battlefields, and sieges. From 1556 to 1714 the Spanish Crown ruled the southern Netherlands (the Low Countries). The Dutch attempted to achieve independence from Spain during the Eighty Years War, which lasted from 1568 to 1648. The war resulted in a new border between the Dutch Republic and the Spanish Netherlands. Below is a map of the Siege of Schenkenschans. In July 1635 the Spanish Army of Flanders captured the fortress of Schenkenschans. The siege ended in April 1636.

Map of the Siege of Schencken-Schans.

Schencken-Schans. Published by Joan Blaeu, 1652. Geography and Map Division.

Featured below is a map of Vollenhove, a city located in the Dutch Province of Overijssel. An illustration of the Toutenburg Castle is shown in the upper left corner. The governor of the Province of Overijssel, Joris Schenck van Toutenburg, built the castle during the 16th century. The castle was partially destroyed during the Eighty Years War. During the 18th century the building deteriorated, and the castle was demolished in the early 19th century. Today, only ruins remain of the castle.

A map of the Dutch town Hollenhove.

Vollenhove. Published by Joan Blaeu, 1652. Geography and Map Division.

Pictured below is the Binnenhof, a complex of buildings located in The Hague. The Binnenhof was the location of the High Court of the Provinces of Holland (the Hof van Holland). Today the Binnenhof serves as the meeting place for the Dutch Senate and House of Representatives.

An illustration of a church and other buildings.

Curia Hollandiae Interior. Published by Joan Blaeu, 1652. Geography and Map Division.

Below are views  of the town of Gennep. The town was built between the Maas and Niers Rivers.  For centuries there has been a tradition of producing ceramics in Gennep because of the rich deposits of clay in the town.

Views of Gennep, Netherlands.

De Stadt Gennep t’ Huy te Gennep. Published by Joan Blaeu, 1652. Geography and Map Division.

On February 22, 1672, a fire broke out at Blaeu’s main printing house in Amsterdam. The building was destroyed and many of the copper plates were ruined. After the fire Joan Blaeu continued to publish maps at another printing house owned by the Blaeu family. Blaeu died in December 1673 and the company was passed on to his son. After Joan Blaeu’s death the inventory of the Blaeu firm was gradually liquidated.

Joan Blaeu planned to publish town atlases of several other countries in Europe. In 1663 he published a three-volume town atlas of Italy. His goal of publishing town atlases of additional European countries was never achieved. In this post I have featured only a few of the maps and illustrations from the 1652 edition of the Toonneel der steden. In my opinion the atlas contains some of the most beautiful maps in the collections of the Geography and Map Division. Images from the entire volume may be viewed and downloaded here.

Learn More:

Learn more about the atlas in Tooneel der steden by Joan Blaeu : Dutch Splendor in the 17th Century  by Dr. Marco van Egmond, the Curator of Maps, Atlases and Printed Works at Utrecht University.


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