Willem Blaeu. “Moluccae Insulae Celeberrimae.” Amsterdam: W. Blaeu, ca. 1630. 14 3/4 x 19 1/4. Engraving. Original hand color. Full margins. Very good condition.
A stunning map of the Moluccas, the fabled Spice Islands, by Willem Blaeu. Blaeu (1571-1638) was the progenitor of the famous Blaeu cartographic firm of Amsterdam. He studied astronomy and sciences with Tycho Brahe, and in 1599 established a globe and instrument making business which soon expanded to include cartographic and geographic publishing. This firm was to go on to become the largest and most important cartographic publishing firms in the world, run by his sons Cornelis (until his death in 1642) and Joan. The maps issued by the Blaeu firm are known for their fine engraving and design, and have been called “the highest expression of Dutch cartographical art.” This map is a good example of Blaeu’s work. The Spice Islands were the center of the important spice trade from the earliest days of European exploration and expansion into Asia. Initially the Portuguese had sole possession of the trade for cloves, nutmeg and mace from these islands. With the establishment of the Dutch East India Company in 1602, however, the Dutch soon moved in and too over this trade. This small archipelago was the source of much of the wealth that the Dutch East India Company brought into the Netherlands, so it is not surprising that Blaeu would make a single map of just this small archipelago–the first large scale map of the Spice Islands. Not only historically fascinating, this map is also a decorative masterpiece. The islands are each carefully presented, showing topography and the spice fields. A decorative title cartouche is in the top right, matched to the left by an inset map of “Bachian Island.” European ships are shown plying the seas around the islands, two of which are engaged in battle, a reflection of the intense competition for control of the spice trade.