Willem Janszoon Blaeu (1571-1638) is regarded as the father of modern western globe-making. Not only did his firm start globe production as a viable commercial enterprise, the globes from his forty-year career are amongst the very finest and most beautiful ever published.
Over the winter of 1595/6 Blaeu stayed with the renowned Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe (1546-1601) at his observatory in Urienborg. Brahe (whose portrait crowns the cartouche to the celestial globe) was the leading astronomer of his day and the first in the West to produce an entirely new star catalogue since Ptolemy. Brahe was completing his star catalogue at the time of Blaeu's stay and on his return to Alkmaar, Blaeu made for Adriaan Anthonisz a 34 cm. diameter celestial globe, based on Brahe's as yet unpublished information.
In 1598/9 Blaeu settled in Amsterdam. It was here that he established his hugely successful publishing company which, throughout the course of the 17th century, would issue not only globes but maps, books, atlases and planetaria. Blaeu's 68 cm. globes were made in response to the 53 cm. pair issued by the Hondius firm in 1613. Their preparation was announced in 1614, and when finished in 1616 were presented to the States General, who awarded an honorarium of 50 guilders. They would remain the largest globes in production for over 70 years, until Vincenzo Maria Coronelli (1650-1717) issued his 110 cm. pair in 1688. They would go on to be republished three times during the 17th century, and incorporate important discoveries from the voyages of LeMaire, Button, Baffin, amongst others. Most of these additions were not worked into Blaeu's smaller globes: an indication that he considered this large pair his most important work. As van der Krogt states "[t]his globe pair confirmed Blaeu's reputation as the greatest globe manufacturer in the world".
The current pair was aquired by the 9th Earl of Northumberland, Henry Percy (1564-1632), often referred to as the 'wizard earl' for his patronage of natural philosophers and keen interest in matters alchemical and astronomical. His interest in cartography is well documented, and he took a Molyneux globe of 1592 with him to the Tower (it still survives at Petworth House). Wallis in Geographical Journal, vol.12, p.310, suggests the pair were acquired in 1622: the date is probably taken from the advice to the reader cartouche on the terrestrial. Van der Krogt (1993) gives publishing dates of c.1630-45 suggesting they were acquired towards the end of Northumberland's life. Being the third state of Blaeu's terrestrial the current example is of much greater scarcity than the final state printed in 1645/8 and after Blaeu's death (such as the Liechtenstein pair sold at Christie's, Amsterdam Tuesday 1 April 2008, EUR 793,850); van der Krogt records only 14 examples of this third state.