This scarce map of the kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland is a splendid example of the systematic and highly aesthetic approach of 17th-century Dutch cartography.
The map is elegant and tightly executed, depicting one of the world’s hubs of political and military power at the time. While it was Frederick de Wit who compiled the map, it was published as part of an atlas issued by Nicholas Visscher in Amsterdam around 1680 and titled: Atlas Minor sive Geographia Compendiosa, qua Orbis Terrarum, per Paucas Attamen Novissimas Tabulas Ostenditur. Amstelaedami, ex Officina Nicolai Visscher.
The subdivision of the British Isles into its three constituent kingdoms is underlined by the original coloring, which leaves England yellow, Scotland pink, and Ireland green. The same three entities are also represented by their official coats of arms in the upper left corner, juxtaposing the elaborate and decorative title cartouche typical of the era. The cartouche is surrounded by putti and flanked on both sides by what appears to be water nymphs or sprites, as they sport both dragonfly wings and a fish-tail.
Within each kingdom, administrative subdivisions, such as counties, are also delineated using the same color scheme. While England is flanked by the North Sea, along the right fringe of the map, we find continental Europe represented by the Low Countries of Belgium and Holland. Within the North Sea, a small compass rose straddles an intersection of longitude and latitude delineations. Like most of his Dutch colleagues, Frederick de Wit applied the Mercator projection to many of his maps, including this one. This innovative way of projecting a three-dimensional sphere on a two-dimensional plane had first been proposed by Gerhard Mercator in 1569 but had by the 17th century become the dominant way of mapping large – especially maritime – expanses.
The technique stretches out space proportionally to its proximity to a pole to compensate for the Earth’s curvature when shown on a map. While this meant that both the northernmost and southernmost landmasses became more and more warped the closer one came to the poles, it also dramatically facilitated the correct navigation across open bodies of water in an age when doing so was of crucial importance to an aspiring empire.