Blaeu and his globes

The celestial and terrestrial globes of Willem Jansz. Blaeu (1571-1638) were in the 17th century praised as progressive creations in the field of cartographic techniques. The globes now at the Heritage Library were in 1836 gifted by Baron de Pret de Terveken to the City of Antwerp.


Willem Jansz. Blaeu

In 1595, Willem Jansz. Blaeu (1571-1638), child of a wealthy family of herring traders, embarked on a study trip to Denmark. He 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 ideal location for a producer of navigational instruments and maps. It is in Amsterdam that Blaeu’s first influential book was published in 1608: Het licht der zeevaart, een handleiding voor het navigeren op zee - The light of navigation, a navigation manual for mariners.

Blaeu’s globes

Blaeu’s achieved his greatest successes with his atlases and globes. In 1616, he produced two globes with a diameter of 68 centimetres, the largest then in existence. 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, actually 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 took over the firm. He continued to produce globes, maintaining existing production levels: of the 68 centimetre globes, 102 terrestrial and 97 celestial ones are still in existence today, the large majority printed during the times of Joan Blaeu. Also the globes now held in the Heritage Library collection were produced by Joan Blaeu.