New exhibition celebrates first Scottish atlas

'Scotland's first atlas: The nation displayed by Joan Blaeu' at the National Library of Scotland celebrates the 350th anniversary of Scotland's first atlas.

The exhibition investigates the colourful background to Blaeu's 1654 'Atlas novus', Volume V (covering Scotland), and features original manuscripts and printed mapping. It is thanks to this work that Scotland became one of the best-mapped countries in the world.

The original surveys which were used in the atlas had been produced by Scottish minister Timothy Pont; their path to eventual publication was dogged with difficulties. As a result, it was 15 years after Pont's death that his maps reached Joan Blaeu, the leading cartographic publisher of the 17th century, and another 24 years before they could be published. The atlas covering Scotland was finally published in Latin in Amsterdam as the fifth volume in an 11-volume set. The multi-volume world atlas was more than 50 years in the making and at the time was the most expensive book money could buy.

This cartographic tour de force contains 47 regional maps of the provinces and regions of Scotland, which collectively locate over 20,000 places; it presents a rich variety of information about Scotland in the early 17th century. It put Scotland on the map, both literally and figuratively, and remains a uniquely important publication.

Chris Fleet, deputy map curator at the National Library of Scotland, said: 'Blaeu's maps of Scotland, when considered alongside Pont's manuscript maps and texts, which are also held in the Library, are not only some of the most important documents in the cartographic world, but are also works of art, which portray the Scottish landscape in remarkable detail.'

He goes on to say: 'People have often remarked how surprising it is that Blaeu devoted a whole volume to Scotland because, compared to England, France and Germany, it was relatively sparsely populated. I believe it was covered in such detail because of the quality of Pont's mapping. It glorifies Scotland.'

The 'Blaeu Atlas' texts have recently been translated into English for the first time and are available with zoomable images of the maps on the National Library of Scotland website.

'Scotland's first atlas: The nation displayed by Joan Blaeu' is a free exhibition and opens at the National Library of Scotland, George IV Bridge on 13 November 2004 and runs until 31 January 2005. Opening hours are: Monday-Saturday 1000-1700; Sunday 1400-1700.

4 November 2004

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