Antique map of Africa with borders by Willem J. Blaeu. Published 1641 in Amsterdam.

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Reference 12857

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One of the most sought after maps of Africa.

A very good example of Blaeu's iconic 17th-century map of Africa. It features the African continent with the Arabian Peninsula in the upper right corner and Madagascar to the lower right. Notably, the map reflects the intense exploration of the Indian Ocean islands following Vasco da Gama's 1498 journey to India via the Cape of Good Hope.

Blaeu crafted this map before the Dutch settled at the Cape, so place names there denote its use as a stopping point for ships, not a budding colonial settlement. The continent is divided into political units, decorated with elephants, lions, monkeys, and ostriches. Noteworthy features include two large lakes in the south, influencing the Nile's depiction, and another smaller lake, Sachaf lacus, giving rise to the Zambezi River.

Major African cities adorn the top border, offering a glimpse into the vibrant port economies of the 17th century. Drawings along the sides showcase local dress from various African cultures, reflecting the continent's diversity through European eyes. The seas are teeming with life - flying fishes, ships, and sea monsters - while a beautifully decorated compass rose and a lion-adorned cartouche enhance the map's visual appeal. The title Africae nova descriptio and the author's name are elegantly featured within the cartouche on the Arabian Peninsula.

The map comes from the German edition of the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum by Joan and Cornelis Blaeu, published in Amsterdam in 1641/42. Curiously, the text of the map of America is printed on verso, making this map unique.


CartographerWillem Janszoon Blaeu
TitleAfricae nova descriptio
Publisher, YearAmsterdam, 1641-42
Plate Size40.9 x 55.1 cm (16.1 x 21.7 inches)
Sheet Size45.4 x 59.2 cm (17.9 x 23.3 inches)
ReferenceVan der Krogt, P.: Koeman's Atlantes Neerlandici, 8600:2.


Some browning to margins, centerfold completely backed, sheet margins narrowly backed due to former framing. Very good condition with beautiful colors.


Willem Janszoon Blaeu was born 1571 in Alkmaar. He was trained from 1594 to 1596 by the famous danish astronomer Tycho Brahe. 1599 he went to Amsterdam and founded a business as globe maker. Later he started producing map and sea charts, including his first world map in 1605. In 1633 he was appointed Hydrographer for the Dutch East India Company (VOC). His most famous work was the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum sive Atlas Novus of 1635, which was published until 1655 in total six volumes. After Blaeu's death in 1638 his sons Joan and Cornelis continued the business and finished the Atlas Novus and started an even larger work, the Atlas Maior, which reached 12 volumes. In 1672 a fire destroyed the printing house and most of the printing plates. Joan Blaeu died the following year, leaving the business to his three sons Willem (1635-1701), Pieter (1637-1706) and Joan II (1650-1712). While the business began to decline in the hands of his sons, the dominance of the Blaeu publishing house finally ended in 1703 when the V.O.C. stopped publishing maps bearing the Blaeu family name. Some of the surviving plates were bought by F. de Wit and Schenk & Valk.

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Willem Janszoon Blaeu: Africae nova descriptio.
Antique map of Africa with borders by Willem J. Blaeu. Published 1641 in Amsterdam.

Africa Continent - Blaeu, Willem Janszoon - Africae nova descriptio

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