World Map on Silk
De Wit, Frederick
Date of Creation:
World map on silk, Frederick de Wit, Amsterdam, 1668 (ca. 1700)
Nova Totius Terrarum Orbis Tabula. In an untitled atlas printed entirely on silk, comprising 150 engraved maps and charts. Copperplate engraving, and etching.
Holland dominated commercial map publishing during the seventeenth century. While many maps produced by the principal Dutch firms were geographically important, land atlases were typically designed to appeal to a mass market, objects of beauty independent of cartographic content. These were intended for quite a different audience than printed pilot books, usually smaller, oblong volumes, intended for the nitty-gritty business of sailing.
At about 1650, some Amsterdam publishers began producing large format sea atlases, while the more aesthetic focus of the land atlases became a stark contrast to their emerging competition from France and England.
This work by Frederick de Wit is a remarkable example of Dutch map publishing as an object of art. Geographically, the map follows a standard model of the day, competent but conservative. Its focus, rather, is the elaborate artwork surrounding the map, an allegorical and mythological feast having nothing to do with the geographic content.
That this particular example was produced for a particularly demanding – and particularly wealthy – lover of cartographic objets d'art is clear from the material used. All of the atlas’ 150 maps are on silk, a material that was not only very expensive, but also one that presented special challenges for the printer.
This world map is the work of Romeyn de Hooghe, and engraver and artist who was known for his political caricatures of Louis XIV. With this map, de Hooghe “upped the stakes” in the competition for the decorative map market by combining engraving and etching. Engraving – in which a burin or stylus is used to cut fine grooves into the copper plate – is used for the map area, a technique used to reproduce maps since at least 1477. But in order to achieve the finer lines and shading desired for the artwork, etching was used on the entire decorative surround. With etching, the copper is covered with a thin layer of wax or other material resistant to acid. An etching needle is then used to expose the copper where lines are desired. Acid is then washed over the plate, burning into the metal only where the wax has been removed, and thus creating the channels into which the ink will fall for the printing.
The map’s allegories include the Four Elements. Clockwise from the upper left, they are fire, air, water, and earth. The atlases’ contents includes plates from other Amsterdam publishers, including those of Visscher, Blaeu, Jansson, Waesberghe, Pitt and Heurdt.