Framed Map of the Mediterranean Sea
This map of the Mediterranean made by Joan Blaeu (1596–1673) dates back to the 17th century and remains in excellent condition, boasting well-preserved line-work and illustrations, as well as bright hand-colouring. A famous cartographer and the official mapmaker of the Dutch East India Trading Company, Blaeu took over the family business with his brother after the death of their father in 1638 where they went on to create several collections of city maps and a remarkable world atlas. Here, Blaeu has captured a portion of the Mediterranean Sea and surrounding regions including the kingdoms of Granada and Mercia, which are labelled on the right in a cartouche and represented by the two coats of arms, and the Barbary States at the bottom. Slightly right of the centre fold, the image of a fierce sea battle between a large European-style galleon and smaller galley ship rages on amidst the smoke of cannon fire. Whether this depicts a real historical battle or an allegory, it is likely in reference to the fearsome Barbary Corsairs and their rampant acts of piracy, pillaging and plundering across seas and coastlines stretching as far as Iceland and Newfoundland. Active from the Middle Ages through the 1800s, these pirates mostly hailed from regions of Northern Africa, including Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli, and had frequent conflicts with English, French, and Spanish navies, many of which have been immortalized in paintings. This map is a beautiful example of Joan Blaeu’s work and of historical travel, trade, and turmoil in the Mediterranean region.
At this time in history, the 17th century was a period of change and development as industries expanded, geographies transformed, political systems shifted, and art evolved in accordance with economic and cultural growth. As nations explored and conquered, the demand for maps grew. The Dutch East India Trading Company, a spice and goods trading conglomerate established in the early 1600s, commissioned maps to reflect its travels and newly gained geographical knowledge from various publishing houses including the Blaeu family and its rival, the Hondius family. An accusation of copying against the Hondius family in the 1630s spurred on the creation of what has been considered the greatest atlas ever published, the Blaeu Atlas Maior consisting of 11 volumes and 594 maps.