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).