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Arabia: Blaeu 1661

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  • Title: Arabia
  • Author: House of Blaeu
  • Date: 1661
  • Medium: Hand-colored copperplate engraving
  • Condition: Excellent
  • Inches: 20 5/8 x 16 1/2 [Plate Mark]
  • Centimeters: 52.39 x 41.91 [Plate Mark]
  • Product ID: 222008

Map of the Arabian Peninsula, including the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea, the Arabian Sea, and the cities of Mecca and Medina. This piece appeared only in the last five editions of Blaeu's Atlas Maior, published between 1661 and 1672. Title cartouche features a group of Arab men and their camels conversing beneath a palm tree, while a group of putti admire a pile of lush fruit, representing the riches of Arabia. Blaeu's map was one of the first to show the internal features of the Arabian Peninsula, depicting oases (groupings of trees) and mountain ranges. Additionally, it indicates pearl deposits in the Arabian Gulf through small crosses and delineates international borders with dotted lines. The Red Sea bears labels with its three Latin names: Mare Rubrum (Red Sea), Mare Mecca (Sea of Mecca), and Sinus Arabicus (Gulf of Arabia).

Beneath the city of Medina, Blaeu includes an annotation reading: Talnabi hic Sepultura Mahumetis ejusque successorum Omaris, Osmani et Abubekeri. [Talnabi is the burial place of Mohammed and his successors, Omar, Osman and Abu Bakr.] This note adheres to a Sunni interpretation of Islam, which upholds Abu Bakr, Omar, and Osman as the rightful heirs of the Prophet Mohammed. Following Mohammed’s death in 632 CE, Muslims entered into a bitter dispute over who should lead them as caliph. Though Abu Bakr, Omar, and Osman were the first three caliphs following Mohammed, some Muslims believed that Ali, Mohammed’s cousin, son-in-law and companion who ruled from 656-661 CE as the fourth caliph, should have served as Mohammed’s immediate successor. Those who took this stance became known as Shia Muslims. Thus emerged a divide over which was the true path of Islam. The dispute intensified greatly over time, resulting in largescale violence and political struggle. As in Blaeu’s time, the vast majority of Muslims today identify as Sunni (over 90%).

Dutch cartographer Willem Blaeu (1571-1638), and later his heirs, dominated the world cartographic landscape for much of the seventeenth century. Blaeu studied under Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe, one of the major figures in the history of modern astronomy. After returning to the Low Countries from Denmark in the late 1590s, Blaeu set up shop as a cartographer and globe maker. He produced numerous atlases, and in 1633 became the official mapmaker of the Dutch East India Company, the megacorporation which, thanks to Dutch naval prowess, controlled the seventeenth-century global economy. Numerous depictions of Blaeu maps appear in the work of Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675), one of the greatest painters of the Dutch Golden Age. Blaeu's sons, cartographers Cornelis and Joan (or Johannes) Blaeu, took over the family business after their father's death.