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Sotheby's to offer two rare surviving 17th-century wall maps of Australia and Asia
A new and Accurat Map of the World. Photo: Sotheby's.


LONDON.- Two rare wall maps from the 17th century have been rediscovered in a private Italian residence in Italy, where they are believed to have remained since the late 19th century. Both maps are by Joan Blaeu (1596-1673), who, like his father before him (Willem Jansz. Blaeu, c. 1570-1638), was the leading atlas and map publisher of his generation in Amsterdam, the European centre of cartographic publishing at the time.

Willem and Joan Blaeu were successively the official Cartographers to the Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie), and as such were given unfettered access to the Company's archives of unpublished manuscript materials. They were able to incorporate this privileged information, assembled from the many voyages made by the company’s ships, into their elaborate and highly-prized maps which were often given as prestigious official gifts by the Dutch Republic to foreign dignitaries.

The rarest and most important part of their output was their series of wall-maps: and Sotheby’s London will offer two rare surviving examples depicting Australia and Asia in the Travel, Atlases, Maps & Natural History sale on 9 May 2017. They are estimated at £200,000-250,000 and £60,000-80,000 respectively.

Richard Fattorini, Sotheby’s Director in Books and Manuscripts said: “It is wonderful to find a pair of wall maps in their original unrestored condition, retaining the linen and rollers as decorated for an early, or possibly the first, owner. Wall-maps, by their very nature, are susceptible to damage; mounted on a linen backing, with wooden rods, suspended on a wall, they could be subjected to careless handling, sunlight, heat, damp and soot. They often have a very poor survival rate as, once damaged or geographically superseded, they were readily discarded. As a consequence, they are often found in a frail state.”

Some of the finest surviving examples of Blaeu’s work can be found in the British Library. The Klencke Atlas, a volume of mostly Blaeu wall-maps, was assembled by a group of Dutch merchants and presented to Charles II on his restoration to the throne of England in 1660. Preserving forty-two rare maps, it is one of the largest atlases ever published, measuring 176 by 231 cm when opened.

Joan Blaeu, Archipelagus Orientalis sive Asiaticus. Amsterdam, 1659, 158.7 by 117.4 cm £200,000-250,000 / US$ 248,320-310,400
In his capacity as Cartographer to the Dutch East India Company, Blaeu had access to the company's records of the ongoing exploration of the coasts of Australia. These included the earliest recorded European landfall, by the Dutch ship Duyfken in 1606, up to the more extensive exploration conducted by Abel Janszoon Tasman in 1642-1643 and 1644.

This wall-map of Australia, with the outlying islands of the East Indies remains Blaeu’s most important depiction of the region - a landmark in the European cartography of Australia.

For the first time Australia is named “Nova Hollandia”. "Nova Zeelandia" and the discoveries of Tasman are first shown, notably with the hint of van Diemen's land.

The map is extremely rare and complete with the three side panels of descriptive text. The inclusion of Blaeu’s imprint is of particular significance; the map is possibly one of two known surviving copies in this state.

We have been unable to locate another example of this state of the map appearing at auction or in dealers' catalogues. A later printing was auctioned in Sweden, and subsequently acquired by the National Library of Australia; this appears to have been the only example to appear in trade, until the discovery of this first printing.

Joan Blaeu Asiae Descriptio Novissima Amsterdam, 1659 117 x 155cm £60,000 — 80,000 / US$ 74,496 - 99,328
This highly important wall map of Asia is a summation of the best contemporary Dutch knowledge of the region at the time, assembled from the many voyages of trade and discovery sent out by the Dutch East India Company. An important insertion is the greatly improved depiction of China taken from Martinus Martini's atlas of China, published by Blaeu in 1654.

The map is of the greatest rarity, complete with the three side panels of descriptive text. It is particularly important as having the text bearing Blaeu's imprint, so the whole entity emanates from the Blaeu workshop, and is possibly one of two known surviving copies in this state. We have been unable to locate another example of this map appearing at auction or in dealers' catalogues.





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