The Blaeu Globes

Two of the masterpieces in the collection of the Nottebohm Room are Blaeu's celestial and terrestrial globes.

By Heritage Library Hendrik Conscience

Interior of Nottebohmhall with both globes (1645/1648) by Willem Jansz.BlaeuHeritage Library Hendrik Conscience

Masterpieces

Two of the masterpieces in the collection of the Hendrik Conscience Heritage Library, displayed in the Nottebohm Room, are Blaeu’s celestial and terrestrial globes. Here we will tell you everything about their history, their maker and their relevance.

Portret of Willem Janszoon Blaeu by UnknownHeritage Library Hendrik Conscience

Willem Jansz. Blaeu (1571-1638)

In 1595, Willem Jansz. Blaeu, entered an apprenticeship with the famous astronomer Tycho Brahe, where he was able to give free rein to his interest in mathematics and astronomy and was taught to construct instruments, conduct astronomical observations,  and print books.

After his return to the Netherlands, Blaeu established residence in Amsterdam, the location for a producer of navigational instruments and maps. Here Blaeu published his first influential book in 1608: Het licht der zeevaart, (The light of navigation), a manual for mariners.

Successes of Blaeu

Blaeu achieved his greatest successes with his atlases and globes. When he settled in Amsterdam, the market was mainly in the hands of Jodocus Hondius (1563-1612) and his son in law Johannes Janssonius (1588-1664). Hondius-Janssonius and Blaeu became rivals and continuously tried to surpass one another.

Terrestrial Globe (1645/1648) by Willem Jansz.BlaeuHeritage Library Hendrik Conscience

Largest globes

In 1616, the case was settled when Blaeu published his two globes with a diameter of 68 centimetres, the largest then in existence. His competitor threw in the towel. These globes would remain the largest available on the market for seventy years.

Globes of this size were especially aimed at rich collectors and scientists, being more status symbols than scientific instruments. In the meantime, Willem Blaeu continued to improve his globes, incorporating the most recent discoveries.

In 1638, following Willem’s death, his son Joan Blaeu took over the firm. He continued to produce globes, based on existing plates, but he stopped updating the printing plates with new discoveries, like his father did. Instead he printed patches, to be glued on top of the original. The globes now held in the Conscience Library were produced by Joan Blaeu.

Interior of Townhall of Antwerp by GeeraertsHeritage Library Hendrik Conscience

The Conscience Library globes

In 1836, Baron Philippe Antoine de Pret de Terveken donated the celestrial and a terrestrial globe to the City of Antwerp. This is how the globes found a home in the City Library, which at that time, was still located on the second floor of the Town Hall.

Interior of the readingroom in the Sodaliteit with the 2 globes (1885) by UnknownHeritage Library Hendrik Conscience

Surrounded by books

When the City of Antwerp moved the City Library to its current location, the globes found their definitive home in the historic building on the Hendrik Conscienceplein. Today you can find them in the Nottehmhall.

The terrestrial globe

Through an online application, you now get the chance to watch the Blaeu-globes from the Nottebohm Room even closer. The digital tool allows to rotate the globes and to zoom in on the wonderful details.


3D model

Terrestrial Globe (1645/1648) by Willem Jansz.BlaeuHeritage Library Hendrik Conscience

Australia as a new discovery

The terrestrial globe can be dated to 1645-1648. It incorporates additions by Joan Blaeu.

Detail of terrestrial globe with focus on Australia (1645/1648) by Willem Jansz.BlaeuHeritage Library Hendrik Conscience

New discoveries in Australia were added into this edition, based on travel reports of the Dutch discoverer, Abel Tasman.

Detail of terrestrial globe with focus on Cape Horn (1645/1648) by Willem Jansz.BlaeuHeritage Library Hendrik Conscience

Cape Horn

At the southernmost tip of America we find an inscription which refers to the discovery of Cape Horn, named after the Dutch city Hoorn from where the expedition departed.

The corridor between Cape Horn and Staten Island is called Le Maire Strait after the mission’s leader, Jacob Le Maire from Antwerp.

This discovery dates from 1616, as is also stated on the globe. It is the last date mentioned, making it possible to date the ‘original’ version of the globe. 

Detail of terrestrial globe with focus on Zaire (1645/1648) by Willem Jansz.BlaeuHeritage Library Hendrik Conscience

Lake Zaire

Although the terrestrial globe presents a surprisingly modern picture of the world, there are also a great many inaccuracies. The interior of Congo appears to be swallowed by Lake Zaire or Lake Zembre. This does not exist, but is probably based on stories about Lake Tanganyika.

Because Europeans rarely ventured into the interior regions of Africa, all sorts of stories were being spread about Lake Zaire. On his globe, Blaeu mentions stories about tritons and mermaid living in this lake.

The celestial globe

Through an online application, you now get the chance to watch the Blaeu-globes from the Nottebohm Room even closer. The digital tool allows to rotate the globes and to zoom in on the wonderful details.

3D model of celestial globe

Celestial globe after restoration, Willem Jansz.Blaeu, 1645/1648, From the collection of: Heritage Library Hendrik Conscience
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The celestial globe, too, was an important publication.The positions of the stars are mostly those recorded by Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe, Blaeu’s teacher. These observations, of the highest accuracy possible at the time, were subsequently complemented with 300 positions of the southern constellations, as measured by Frederik de Houtman (1571-1627).

Celestial globe after restoration, Willem Jansz.Blaeu, 1645/1648, From the collection of: Heritage Library Hendrik Conscience
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The images of the constellations on this celestial globe are completely new. The constellations on Blaeu’s earlier globes were mainly copies based on old drawings by German artist Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528). Thus Blaeu also brought artistic innovation onto the market.

Celestial globe (1645/1648) by Willem Jansz.BlaeuHeritage Library Hendrik Conscience

Virgo

The Babylonians associated the constellation Virgo with Shala, the Sumerian goddess of the harvest. The Greek Demeter and Roman Ceres were also harvest goddesses associated with the constellation.

In the Middle Ages, Virgo was associated with the Virgin Mary; it is rather surprising to see that Virgo is most commonly portrayed as an angel with wings.

Detail of celestial globe with focus on Nova (1645/1648) by Willem Jansz.BlaeuHeritage Library Hendrik Conscience

Cassiopeia’s supernova

In 1572, a new and very bright star appeared in the constellation of Cassiopeia. Dozens of scholars in Europe observed this star.

For the first time it appeared that the starry skies were not unchangeable, as Aristotle had claimed. Brahe determined that the new star was a real star and not a planet, and argued that this revolutionized the entire theory of physics of that time.

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