Mapping the Entire Cosmos: Heavens and Earth

Joan Blaeu included this wonderfully ornate world map ~ Nova et accuratissima totius terrarum orbis tabula ("New and most accurate map of the whole world") ~ in the first volume of his eleven-volume Atlas Maior, published in Amsterdam in 1662 [SM-1662-9 is a complete set and also includes this same map, with similar color]. Blaeu derived the geographical content from earlier maps, probably one of the world maps by Nicolaas Visscher (Shirley 2001, no. 428). The projection ~ showing the world in two hemispheres ~ was also quite conventional; it was favored in the seventeenth century not only because it gave a sense of the earth's sphericity but also because it allowed a great deal of room in the margins for decorative elements. That decoration was, on this map, new and carried significant meaning.

In the upper margin, Blaeu depicted allegorical representations of the planets, each shown as a classical god and each orbiting the heavens on a rainbow ring within the etheric clouds. It is a heliocentric cosmos. At the center is Apollo, the Sun god, closely attended by Mercury (just to the right) and Venus (to the left); then Earth itself (the map!), with the Moon as a cherub clambering up between the two hemispheres; to the far left is crowned Jupiter, king of the gods; to the far right are the warrior god Mars and Saturn, god of time. Also, the hemispheres are flanked by images (far left) of the Astronomer, holding an armillary sphere, and the Geographer (far right), taking measurements off the globe.

In the lower margin, Blaeu included allegories of the seasons, which is to say the temporal dimension of existence and of the Earth's annual orbit around the Sun.

The result is a singular image of the entire cosmos: of the heavens and the earth and, in the armillary sphere, the geometry that binds them together in a single creation.

Further Reading: 

Shirley, Rodney W. 2001. The Mapping of the World: Early Printed World Maps, 1472-1700. 2nd ed. Riverside, Calif.: Early World Press. [OML biblio Z6028 .S48 2001]

Matthew Edney

August 2012