Blaeu’s First Edition of Atlas Major, 1662, to be Offered at Sotheby’s London

Sotheby’s London will offer the first complete edition of the most luxurious atlas in the history of printed maps: Joannes Blaeu’s Atlas Major. The largest and most expensive book when published in the 17th-century, the Atlas Major remains the most magnificent work of its kind ever produced. Published in 1662, this first edition of the legendary atlas is one of the true master pieces of the Dutch Golden Age. Estimated at £240,000-320,000, the Atlas Major leads Sotheby’s auction of Travel Atlases, Maps and Natural History in London on 17 November 2015.

The Atlas Major covers the entirety of known world in the 17th-Century, with particular emphasis on Europe, but with separate volumes dedicated to America and China. At the time of its production, the atlas’s cartography, geographical scope and craftsmanship were unprecedented. Comprising 11 large folio volumes, containing 594 engraved maps, plans, and views, all finely coloured by hand in exquisite detail, and nearly 3,000 pages of text, this massive atlas took a team of printers and binders craftsmen many months to produce.

Only 300 sets are believed to have been produced, many of which were presented to Europe’s most influential figures as a tangible symbol of the artistic, intellectual and commercial power of the Republic of the United Netherlands. A coloured version of the atlas would have cost 450 guilders when first published, the same amount as would needed to buy a painting by Rembrandt at that time.

Joannes Blaeu succeeded his father Willem Blaeu as the head cartographer of the Dutch East India Company at a moment when Amsterdam was at the centre of the map-making world. Exploration in the preceding centuries, led by the likes of Columbus and Vasco de Gama had opened the door to new worlds. This geographical expansion in the great era of discovery had unlocked the possibility for an Atlas Major (Great Atlas), with Blaeu’s masterpiece standing as the ultimate symbol of one of the great epochs in human civilization.

Each of the 11 Volumes focuses on a different geographical region. Volume VI, for example, focuses on England and Wales and comprises 58 maps along with illustrated views of views of Stonehenge and Avebury.

The Atlas Major is being offered from the collection of the late Paul Fentener Van Vlissingen, who died in 2006. Vlissingen was a Dutch entrepreneur and philanthropist, known for his dedicated support of conservation projects throughout the world.