A fascinating project to preserve and display the iconic 1648 Dutch world map is now underway. In previous blog posts, we revealed the history of the Nova Totius Terrarum Orbis Tabula (Blaeu World Map) and the family of cartographers, globe makers, printers, and publishers who created it. We also have discussed the science and conservation taking place to prepare the Texas-sized 371-year-old map (learn more about the map) for public display. [Read more…] about Seeing stars in the Blaeu World Map
A Q & A with Dr. Bruce Hunt about the Blaeu World Map
In recent blog posts, we examined the science behind the Blaeu World Map and took a deep dive into the conservation in progress to prepare the massive 371-year-old map for public display. [Read more…] about How a famed astronomer paved the way for the Blaeu World Map
In an earlier blog post, we shared the science behind the Blaeu World Map. This week, Kress Paper Conservation Fellow Emily Farek dives into the treatment taking place to help extend the life of this unique 371-year-old wall map created by Dutch cartographer Joan Blaeu in 1648. [Read more…] about The conservation behind the Blaeu World Map
A one-of-a-kind 17th-century map housed at the Ransom Center for decades, currently too fragile to display, is now the subject of an intensive research and conservation project that will utilize scientific analysis to reveal the hidden story behind the map’s production and significance. [Read more…] about The science behind the Blaeu World Map
Until recently, one of the largest objects in the Ransom Center collections has also been one of the least visible. Joan Blaeu’s Nova totius terrarum orbis tabula (1648) is part of the Kraus map collection. Blaeu (1596–1673) was a member of a celebrated family of Dutch cartographers and is best known for his 11-volume Great Atlas. The Ransom Center has a hand-colored set of this monumental work (but that is a matter for a future blog post.)
Blaeu’s great wall map (GWM) is one of the largest ever published, measuring 2995 x 2043 mm, nearly 10 x 7 feet from edge to edge. Another copy was incorporated into an enormous atlas, often cited as the largest atlas in the world, made for Charles II but still the map had to be cropped to fit. Presumably the atlas did not accompany the king on road trips.
For the past 40 years, the GWM has been tucked away in a large wall case on the Ransom Center’s top floor. When we began to think about displaying the map as a focal point for a 2005 exhibition, we discovered that the GWM was simply too large to make a trip downstairs without being damaged, leading me to wonder how it had ever reached its seventh floor location in the first place.
Understandably, only a handful of people other than staff have ever viewed the GWM. A few years ago, we made digital images of the map for a scholar, section by section. These images were then assembled to make a medium-resolution composite image, which was later used when our Kraus map website went live in the spring of 2012. Yet, it was impossible to read the text in Latin and French at the bottom of the GWM, a guide for the use of the map aimed at “geography lovers.” Nor was it possible to appreciate fully the wealth of graphic detail—for example, the fleets sailing in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans—that is so characteristic of baroque map-making.
This past fall, Ransom Center photographer Pete Smith took up photographing the map as a personal challenge. He first needed our stacks maintenance unit to remove a range of shelving in order to get far enough away from the map so that he could shoot high-quality images. After two days of work, he had 120 high-resolution images, from which 30 were selected for use.
This was only the beginning. Anybody who has used Photoshop can appreciate how difficult it is to stitch together this many digital images by hand. Fortunately, specialized software was available to create a composite image of the huge map. Processing took a fast computer an hour. Although the final product is a behemoth file of 1.5 gigabytes, the web servers handle it with amazing efficiency.
We often say that viewing a digital surrogate is no substitute for interacting with the original, and it is undeniable that one cannot comprehend the sheer scale of the GWM by looking at it online. On the other hand, it is almost impossible to study the original map in any detail, even if one has access to the stacks. Digitization made essentially invisible object accessible to anyone with a computer.