The Golden Age of the Netherlands. Flemish and Dutch maps and atlases

For some two hundred years, the Netherlands was a leading centre of modern map making. From the second part of the 16th century, Antwerp the great metropolis in southern Netherlands, then from the 1580-90s Amsterdam were acting as producing and publishing centre of commercial cartography in Europe. Flemish, then Dutch map makers and publishers had a decisive role in exploitation the achievements of global geographical discoveries and innovations of engraving and printing technology in the field of map trade.

Growing numbers of map producers and publishers, especially from the mid-17th century in Amsterdam, were producing map and atlas works in high quality for the map market of Europe. The heyday of this long period, the 17th century, is entitled to be reckoned as the Golden Age of European map making history. Pre-eminent masters and dealers of the opening decades of the century, as Willem Jansz. Blaeu, Jodocus Hondius, Jan Janssonius, then from the mid-century, the members of the Blaeu and of the Visscher families, Frederick de Wit and many other talented persons of the trade produced all kinds of map works. Atlas maps, nautical charts, pilot guides, maps with special contents as polder maps, maps for water management, of theatre of wars and so on. Competing authors and publishers produced and issued maps, charts and atlases of the highest standard as the folio-sized single sheet maps with decorative borders and the Atlas Novuses and Atlas Majors even in 10 or 12 volumes.

In the second half of the century there were dozens of major map producers and publishers. The families of the Visscher, of the Allard and of the Danckerts; Frederick de Wit, Pieter Schenk and Gerard Valk to name only the most prominent ones. These firms went mostly in the footsteps of their great predecessors, but their production increasingly focused on serving the needs of collectors and besides, as in this period wars followed each other almost uninterruptedly in Europe, took opportunity and were producing easy-to-sell, profitable maps relating to war events. Proportion of this map genre has markedly increased in their stock at the end of the century. There are also many such maps in our exhibition.

The Netherlands, especially Amsterdam, held its leading role in commercial cartography in the 18th century. Although in many countries of Europe, the number of enterprises working for domestic and national map markets has been established and strengthened, Amsterdam's market leadership remained thanks to, first of all, the popular map collecting activity which became widespread throughout in Europe.

This is understandable, as even obsolete publications could be traded among collectors. The map printing technology of the era, printing from copper plates made this mostly possible. The plates of the maps of the previous years were purchased and used for subsequent decades. These printing plates mainly concentrated in the hands of publishers as Pieter Mortier, Covens-Mortier, Ottens and Schenk & Valk who resold, in their own name and in very large quantities, those maps had been produced even in the mid-17th century. Ferenc Széchényi's map collection is also a good example of this publishing practice.

The most significant and at the same time, the most beautiful part of the map collection of the Count is the group of Flemish and Dutch maps and atlases. This collection part involves more than 520 maps and atlases issued roughly forty map publishers (!) including works by almost every major masters of the period and full with treasures of 16th to 18th century map making history.

We made a selection from this precious material for this part of our exhibition series that has been showing the Count's map collection. The material of the era is presented in four large, closely related thematic groups. In the first part, works produced in the framework of atlas cartography. Thus, complete atlases, as well atlas maps which are stored in the Széchényi collection as loose sheets. In the second part, from those works relating to wars in the period. In the third part, from those maps prepared for special purposes: as delineation of local surveying or as supplements of geographical or other books. Finally, as a separate unit are works from the most beautiful genre of the Dutch Golden Age’s cartography, i. e. from decorative folio-sized single sheet maps of countries and provinces. From this jewels of the history of cartography, the Count’s Collection guards ten rare specimens.