Tabula Islandiae


Blaeu’s stunning Carolus Map of Iceland: A Landmark in North Atlantic Cartography.

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SKU: NL-00388 Category: Tag:
Cartographer(s): Willem Blaeu
Date: ca. 1640
Place: Amsterdam
Dimensions: 37.5 x 49.5 cm (14.8 x 19.5 in)
Condition Rating: VG+


Discover the most important early map of Iceland after the iconic sheets by Ortelius and Mercator. The exquisite Carolus map, published by William Janszoon Blaeu in the first half of the 17th century, showcases Iceland’s remarkable landscape with an erupting volcano, sea monsters, sailing ships, and an ornate title cartouche embellished with reclining nereids overseeing the fates of sailors. Originally crafted by Jodocus Hondius and later reprinted by Blaeu, this map sought to offer a fresh perspective to consumers fatigued by the repetitive appearance of existing maps.

Reynir Grétarsson, the esteemed author of Mapping Iceland, recognizes the significance of this map, which departed visually from its predecessors. While incorporating toponyms from the earlier Ortelius map, the map credits Joris Carolos as its source, drawing on his personal visits to Iceland. However, Blaeu may have utilized Carolos’ name to enhance the map’s authority without relying on his information exclusively. The map features new islands and fjords but shows only minimal changes to the island’s interior.

Blaeu’s map of Iceland, enriched with an erupting volcano, sea monsters, decorative cartouches, and a compass rose, was immensely popular for over 130 years. Published in multiple editions by two prominent Dutch map publishers, Willem Blaeu, and Jan Jansson, it became a cornerstone of seventeenth-century North Atlantic cartography. This particular example originates from the French edition of Blaeu’s influential atlas, Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, sive, Atlas novus, published in Amsterdam in 1640.

The superb craftsmanship and meticulous engraving were originally done by Jodocus Hondius the Younger in 1628. After Hondius’ passing in 1629, the plates were acquired by Willem Blaeu, who incorporated them into his Mercator atlases. The topography was largely drawn from Ortelius and emphasizes the majesty of Iceland’s volcanic landscapes. Placenames, on the other hand, predominantly reflect Mercator’s contributions. Noteworthy features include the eruption of Mount Hekla, the fjord misrepresentation of Lagarfjót, and the imaginary Gouberman islands off the western shore.

Immerse yourself in the rich history and visual splendor of the Carolus map of Iceland by Blaeu. Uncover the allure of this influential cartographic masterpiece that captivated audiences for centuries.


Willem Blaeu

Willem Janszoon Blaeu (1571-1638) was a one of the most important Dutch geographers and mapmakers of the 17th century. He was born the son of a herring merchant, but traded fish-mongering for studies in mathematics and astronomy. Blaeu’s first important breakthrough was winning apprenticeship with the famous Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe. Working at Brahe’s Uranienborg observatory on the island of Hven, Blaeu learned a wide range of disciplines and technical skills. These included mathematics and astronomy, but also instrument-making and more esoteric disciplines such as alchemy. Returning to his native Holland, Blaeu set up a publishing business in Amsterdam from which he sold instruments and globes, printed maps, and his own editions of some of the great philosophical works of contemporary intellectuals like Descartes and Hugo Grotius. Achieving notoriety as a cartographic pioneer, Blaeu was appointed Chief Hydrographer to the powerful Dutch East India Company; a position he held until his death in 1638.

When Willem died, his two sons Cornelis (1610-1648) and Joan (1596-1673) took over the business. Joan had originally trained as a lawyer, but never took up practice, preferring to work on maps with his father. After Willem’s death, Joan continued to publish both his father’s and his own maps. He also assumed his father’s position as hydrographer for the Dutch East India Company. Towards the end of his life, Joan would dramatically expand his father’s Atlas Novus (1635), turning it into his own masterpiece, the Atlas Maior (1662-72).

Condition Description

Repaired tear in the lower part of the centerfold and rumpled corner; otherwise in great condition and a lovely image.