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The map trade in the 17th century

 Detail of Seller map of Asia By the end of the seventeenth century, images of the world were increasingly common. John Seller (163?-1697), a navigational instrument maker who also drew and published nautical charts and maps, produced a set of miniature maps for a less well-heeled audience. His map of Asia, shown here, was originally used in a set of playing card maps, and was later included in the pocket-sized Atlas Minimus (1679). The map only gives the broad outlines of the region and very basic geographic and cultural information, but it is evidence that knowledge of world geography was becoming common throughout British society, and was no longer limited to the upper classes.

A handful of Dutch mapmakers dominated the European map trade for most of the seventeenth century.  Detail of Jansson map of IndiaThe firms of Hondius, Blaeu, Visscher and Jansson, all of which have maps represented in this exhibition, were located within the same neighborhood in Amsterdam, and were at various times fierce competitors, collaborators, partners and in-laws. Maps were not their only product; they were all master engravers and were kept busy meeting the Dutch demand for prints and illustrated books. But they are best known for their large, elaborately decorated, hand-colored maps and atlases, printed for the growing class of wealthy merchants for whom the maps were both a sign of educated, cosmopolitan tastes and a reminder of the source of their prosperity. In spite of residing at the heart of European over-seas trade, the mapmakers were not particularly concerned about updating their maps with the latest geographic information. This map of central and northern India was first printed for the 1636 Hondius atlas, and then was reissued numerous times throughout the century by his son-in-law, Jan Jansson.

The map is typical of the best seventeenth-century Dutch maps. It has uniform lettering, an elaborate cartouche with images of representative inhabitants, and finely engraved geographical features. Unlike the African maps of this period, this map shows considerable detail of Indian towns in the interior, an indication that Europeans were better informed about the land and society beyond the coast, either from direct observation or through reports from Mogul sources. The large number of internal cities, coupled with the richly-clothed Indians in the cartouche, also conveyed the sense of India as a wealthy, densely populated area.

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