Africae accurata tabula
Visscher, Nicolaes I
Date of Creation:
Vissher’s map of the African continent is based on Willem Blaeu’s wall map of Africa (1608) and, as with Blaeu, Visscher’s map is typical of the view of Africa held by Europeans during the seventeenth century. Alongside native African animals such as elephants and ostriches the interior of the map is filled with mythical information. The ‘Cuama’ and ‘Spirito Santo’ rivers of the Zambere are shown originating from a common source in ‘Sacaf Lacus’ and the Nile river arises from the ‘Zaire’ and ‘Zafflan’ lakes – reflecting the Ptolemaic view.
The Visscher family was one of the most distinguished of all seventeenth-century cartographic firms, and a major player in the era now considered the golden age of Dutch mapmaking. In the late 1600’s, a period of great geographical discovery, Amsterdam became an international center of the arts and of cartography, with engravers and printers produced magnificent maps and charts of every kind. The fields of artistic production and mapmaking were arguably more seamlessly united during this era than any period before or since, as the strong competition among publishers meant that maps not only had to be scrupulously accurate, but also visually appealing. In this milieu, a number of venerable firms, including those established by Blaeu, Jansson, Hondius, as well as Visscher, competed for the ever-expanding market for maps and atlases.
The family firm was founded by Claes Jansz Visscher, whose grandfather had been a fisherman, as his name suggests, and fishermen are a recurring theme throughout Visscher’s engravings. He first emerged as a printmaker from number 8 Roomolenstteeg, Amsterdam. By 1605 he was working for Willem Jansz Blaeu on his monumental world map printed on twenty plates. Blaeu also published a number of Visscher’s individual etchings from designs by David Vinckboons, who may have trained Visscher in the art of etching and engraving. By 1608 Visscher was signing his name as the creator and publisher of his own works. In 1611, he acquired a house in the prestigious Kalverstraat, between Dam Square and the Stock Exchange, and from there built up an impressive stock of maps, city views and other topographical prints. “In due course, he became Amsterdam’s most productive and innovative print publisher. It is estimated that a thousand or so prints were produced in Visscher’s workshop and more than four thousand others were printed from bought in second-hand plates, making the print publisher one of the largest in Europe. Later the print publishers Jodocus Hondius I, Cornelis Danckerts, Hugo Allardt, Frederick de Wit, Justus Danckerts and Clement de Jonghe also set themselves up in Kalverstraat, creating a huge concentration of activity in print making and print dealing” (Leefland).
Despite his formidable output and stock, we know little about Claes Jansz Visscher the man. He married Neel Floris (1588-1638) in 1608 and they had ten children, five of whom reached adulthood. There is no surviving portrait of Visscher. As a strict Calvinist, he had burnished out all images of God from older plates he had purchased. Visscher’s career is a perfect example of the social mobility that was possible during the Golden Age. Alongside the print business, he and his family made a fortune buying property in the booming Amsterdam real estate. Claes Jansz’s son Nicolaes (1618-1679) joined the business, probably at an early age. After the death of his father in 1652, he continued the business until his own death, and was then followed by his son Nicolaes II until 1702, when his wife Elizabeth Verseyl successfully continued the business until her death in 1726. Thereafter the shop came into the possession of the publisher Andries de Leth.