MapCarte 65/365: Leo Hollandicus by Claes Visscher, 1648


Maps have long provided inspiration for more elaborate artwork. The shapes of countries, in particular, can lend themselves to all manner of design opportunity. The Lion has long been associated with the Low Countries (current Netherlands, Luxembourg and Belgium) and used in heraldry so it is no surprise that many cartographers as far back as the mid 16th Century have drawn on it for inspiration.

Michael Aitzinger is credited with the earliest depiction of a lion as a way of depicting the area. The lion existed in many of the coats of arms and the arching back of the lion rearing up fits perfectly with the shape of the coastline. Claes Janszoon Visscher, a dutch engraver, mapmaker and publisher worked during the Golden Age of Dutch cartography. He began depicting the area in this way in 1609 and he made perhaps the most famous version. Here, his third version, published in 1648 after the independence of the Dutch Republic, frames the map with panoramas of major Dutch towns and cities as well as incorporating decorative flourishes (cartouches), flags and other imagery.

Beautiful artistry and integration of themes and motifs support the map’s use as a proud statement of independence and territorial dominance. As a tool to learn something of the geography of the land the map might be limited but it certainly gives a clear view of nationhood and tells something of the story of the country. Its densely packed layout contains a wealth of information and with the main map as a central actor, the surrounding detail supports the mains story.