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The Golden Age of Dutch and Flemish mercantilism in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was also the golden age of Dutch and Flemish cartography. Unrestricted by feudal regulations, the Netherlands became the central warehouse of European trade, importing goods from around the world and distributing them throughout Europe. The wealth so generated allowed all levels of Dutch and Flemish society to engage in mass consumption of a wide variety of material and cultural goods, including maps. The “economies of scale” meant that Low Country publishers could produce maps relatively cheaply; these works could then be distributed along with the tea, cotton, sugar, and all the other goods moved by Dutch and Flemish merchants throughout Europe. The printing houses of Amsterdam and Antwerp thus came to dominate commercial map production in Europe.
An innovative mechanism established at this time for disseminating maps was the systematic atlas. The first edition of each atlas featured Latin text, but subsequent editions were issued in all the western European vernaculars; because maps were printed by a different process, they could not be so readily altered, so their titles and place names remained in Latin. Abraham Ortelius created the modern atlas with his Theatrum orbis Terrarum of 1570; he brought together the best maps available and presented them all at the same, manageable size. For example, his map of Spain (5)--taken from a 1592 or 1595 Latin edition of the Theatrum--was derived from Vincenzo Paletino's 1551 map, updated by the botanist Charles de l'Escluse (1529-1609). When it first appeared, the Theatrum was the most expensive book ever printed, yet in fifty years it went through some thirty-four editions and it sold more than 7,000 copies; it was truly a "bestseller" of its day.
REGNI HISPANIAE POST OMNIVM EDITIONES LOCVPLE'SSIMA DESCRIPTIO
From: THEATRVM ORBIS TERRARVM . . .
Antwerp, 1592 or 1595
Engraving, 37.6 x 49.2 cm.
A less successful commercial venture was the Speculum orbis terrae, published in Antwerp in 1579 by Gerard de Jode, a rival publisher of books, prints, and maps (6). (Publication of the whole book was delayed until after the maps themselves were first printed in 1578, perhaps because of Ortelius's interference with de Jode's printing privileges.) This situation has led to a paradox: de Jode's maps are acknowledged to be inferior to Ortelius's, but the limited production of the Speculum means that de Jode's maps are rarer and so more precious to collectors than Ortelius's maps.
GERARD de JODE
Noua Descriptio Hispaniæ Pirrho Ligorio Neap. Auctore
From: SPECVLVM ORBIS TERRÆ . . . 1578/1593
Engraving, 38.0 x 50.7 cm.
The term "atlas" derives from the books of maps produced by the famous Gerard Mercator (1512-1594), the quintessential geographer, map engraver/printer, and publisher. These books were republished posthumously in 1595 as a single work bearing the title Atlas sive Cosmographicae Meditationes. In 1604, the plates for Mercator's maps were purchased from his heirs by Jodocus Hondius (1563-1612); Hondius added new maps, such as the map of Spain (7), to extend the geographical coverage of Mercator's work. The Mercator-Hondius Atlas in turn spawned a host of imitators, culminating with the Blaeus' massive Atlas Major (1662) (see item 26).
HISPANIAE NOVA DESCRIBTIO, DE INTEGRO MULTIS INLOCIS, SECUNDUM HYDROGRAPHICAS, DESC. EMENDATA.
From: GERARDI MERCATORIS ATLAS SIVE COSMOGRAPHICÆ . . . 1606/1613
Engraving, 37.3 x 51.1 cm.
The commercial supremacy of the Dutch and Flemish engravers lasted throughout the seventeenth century, for reasons easily understood with reference to England. The domestic English market for maps was just too small to support a skilled work force able to produce high quality maps cheaply; London publishers therefore used Netherlandish sources throughout the seventeenth century. Thus, John Speed's 1625 map of Spain (8) was actually engraved by the Hondius family in Amsterdam, although it was printed in London. (Jodocus Hondius had himself lived in London from 1576 to 1593, one of several engravers among Protestant refugees from the Low Countries.)
SPAINE Newly described, with many adictions, both in the attires of the people & the setuations of their cheifest Cityes. 1625/1676
From: A PROSPECT OF THE MOST FAMOUS PARTS OF THE WORLD . . .
London, THOMAS BASSET AND RICHARD CHISWELL, 1676
Engraving, hand colored, 41.7 x 54.2 cm.