The famous Dutch mapmaker and mathematician Gerard van Keulen compiled this exceptional and richly decorated chart of the Java Archipelago in the first half of 18th century. The chart was printed as a copperplate engraving and then hand-colored. Originally, it was issued in two separate sheets showing the eastern and western half of the island respectively. In our case, these have been professionally joined to from a singular impressive map of the Dutch crown colony that measures 118 by 51 centimeters (46.5 x 20.5 in).
The present example is the second state of the map. The original first state sports a decorative cartouche at the lower right, but does not include the two important insets, to which we shall return to shortly. The present state was issued in Volume VI of van Keulen’s famous De Nieuwe Groote Lichtende Zee-Fakkel, ‘t Vyfde Deel from 1753. Gerard’s father, Johannes van Keulen, published the first edition of this comprehensive pilot-guide in the 1680s. As Dutch commercial interests expanded, so did the demand for these kinds of reliable charts and atlases and van Keulen’s multi-volume pilot soon became a seminal work desired by all navigators. The large demand for new editions was sustained for more than a century and across four generations of van Keulen chart-makers.
The two charts cover all of Java and its surrounding islands, stretching from the southeastern tip of Sumatra in the west to the western half of Bali in the east. Despite being extensively annotated and decorated in the interior as well, the map’s geographic focus is clearly on the coast. Most stretches of coast are crammed with towns and harbors, the largest of which have been endowed with generic renditions of cities in red. In addition, there is a high degree of detail in the physiographic characteristics of the coast, showing shoals, inlets, and natural harbors, supported by countless depth soundings throughout the chart. The density of these soundings increases near coastal outcrops, in channels or straits, and around the larger settlements.
All of the annotations, save the Latin inscription beneath the reduced cartouche, are in Dutch, including place names and bodies of water. Labeling is not limited to toponomy, but also includes territorial attributions and internal political divisions. Moving from west to east, we note regions or areas (Gebiedt in Dutch) controlled by the King of Bantam, the Dutch East India Company, and the Emperor of Matara. Throughout the map, the interior is covered with different illustrations and annotations. Much of this space is covered by the different mountain chains of Java, which in many cases are marked as high (Hoog) or very high (Seer hoog Gebergte).
Interspersed between the various mountains we find illustrations of some of the iconic symbols associated with Java at the time. Consequently there are extensive depictions of elephants, rhinos, and antelopes; just as palm plantations and rice fields are seemingly ubiquitous. Perhaps the most harrowing scene is found in Java’s northwest corner, in the realm of the King of Bantam. If one looks carefully, the outline of an assembly point for roving slave parties comes into view, complete with a whip-wielding driver. It is a stark reminder of some of the “commodities” in which the Dutch traded.
Being firmly focused on the nautical aspect of charts, the van Keulen dynasty always lent particular weight to a chart’s navigational functionality. Here, this is exemplified by the elaborate windrose or rhumb-line network marking the maritime sphere. Ten 16-point compass roses form the mainstay of the network, but additional sight lines and wind directions underlie these. At the bottom of the chart we find a double scale indicating distances in both Dutch and English/French miles, and including a note that a degree contains 15 Dutch miles and 20 English/French miles.
While the first state of this chart contained an even more elaborate cartouche, the second state also carries a decorative inscription crowned by an image of a local offering goods to the Belgian Lion (Leo Belgicus), a common term for the Low Countries and a symbolic reference to recent Dutch independence from Spain following the Eighty Years War (1568-1648). Independence had come in the wake of the devastating Thirty-Year War (1618-1648), which had engulfed all of Europe in a religious conflict that redrew the political landscape completely. Leaning against the inscription, we find two back-bound slaves captured from among the indigenous population.
Mapping the approach to Batavia (Jakarta)
While the second state may not have as elaborate a cartouche as the first, it does have two other important additions, which help set this chart apart from its contemporaries. Below the inscription we find a detailed inset map of the harbor and bay of Batavia, or modern Jakarta, the largest Dutch entrepôt on the island and Indonesia’s national capital. The map is quite detailed, allowing it to be used in the approach to the town. The bay contains its own windrose compass and contains numerous depth soundings throughout. The coastline to the east of Batavia is marked as inapproachable and all of the islands of the bay have been colored in order to stand out clearly. A scale indicating Dutch miles is located in the bottom of the inset. The settlement of Batavia itself is shown as being heavily fortified, built around an older star-shaped Portuguese fort, and supplied with embattlements all around the city.
The second inset is found in the top right corner, so that originally each sheet of the map would have had a distinct new dimension to it. In the upper corner, the inset contains a detailed panoramic view of Batavia as seen from the bay. The image centers on the town itself, but includes many other details such as ships in approach and the Bagor Mountains in the background. These deliberately aesthetic elements meant to supplement the beauty of the depiction as a whole.
When studying the actual settlement, individual buildings and features stand out clearly and have been annotated, confirming that this is not just an attractive view, but a means for a pilot or captain to identify concrete urban elements from the bay. In the center of town we find the old fort, here labeled ‘t Casteel Batavia or Batavia Castle, which in turn is fronted by a monumental salient gate labeled Water Poort (Water Gate). To the left of the fort we find the Dutch Church (Nederlantsche Kerk) and on the right is a constructed canal that allowed ships access to the inner harbor. Flanking the entryway is a structure entitled Van Diemen’s Platform.
This refers to Antonio van Diemen, the son of a provincial Dutch mayor, who became a civil servant and ultimately was appointed Governor General of Dutch East India, with residence in Batavia. Van Diemen became a decisive agent for the Dutch, and during his nine years as governor, Batavia was considerably enlarged and developed. He firmly supported the endeavors of the Dutch East India Company, who under his patronage became one of the most powerful players in the region. He also helped the Dutch secure the island of Sri Lanka and funded Abel Tasman’s expedition to explore New Holland (i.e. the Australian continent). When Tasman discovered what today is Tasmania, he named it Van Diemens Land in honor of his sponsor.