Willem Janszoon Blaeu (1571-1638) is regarded as the father of modern western globe-making. Not only did his firm really kick-start globes as a viable commercial enterprise, but the globes during his forty-year career are amongst the very finest and most beautiful ever published.
Blaeu was the son a of a herring merchant, born in the small provincial town of Alkmaar in what is now the Netherlands. It was prominent citizen Adriaan Anthonisz, a mathematician and an enthusiast for the liberal arts, whose son Adriaan Metius would later author a celestial globe for Hondius, who first encouraged Blaeu to take up astronomy. Over the winter of 1595/6 Blaeu stayed with the renowned Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe (1546-1601) at his observatory in Urienborg. Brahe was the leading astronomer of his day and the first in the West to produce an entirely new star catalogue since Ptolemy. He had attracted many astronomers and celestial cartographers of the day to his observatory including, prior to Blaeu, globe-makers Arnold and Hendrik van Langren whose own globes would benefit enormously from the influence of Brahe. In fact the van Langrens were the sons of Jakob Floris van Langren (1525-1610), who was the first person to publish globes in the important commerical port of Amsterdam, with a pair of 32.5cm. diameter in 1586. He soon had a commercial rival in the form of Jodocus Hondius (1563-1612) who published a pair of 61cm. diameter globes in London in 1597 followed by an updated version in Amsterdam in 1597. Both would be eclipsed by Blaeu, however, both by the beauty of his own globes, and by the success and longevity of his publishing house.
Brahe was completing his star catalogue at the time of Blaeu's stay and on his return to Alkmaar, Blaeu made for Anthonisz a 34cm. diameter terrestrial globe, engraved by Jan Pietersz. Saenredam and based on Brahe's as yet unpublished information.
In 1598/9 Blaeu moved to and settled in Amsterdam. It was here that he established his hugely successful publishing company which, thoughout the course of the seventeenth century, would issue not only globes but maps, books, atlases and planetaria. His first publication was a terrestrial globe to match the celestial he had already made. This was dated 1599. Interestingly it is signed Guilielmo Ianßonio Alcmariano, meaning "Willem Jansz of Alkmaar". This is the name that would appear on all of his initial five pairs of globes: he made a run of the 34cm. celestial dated 1603 to be sold with the terrestrial of 1599; by this time he had already produced pairs of 23cm. diameter, dated 1601; and he would go on to produce pairs of 13.5cm. (1606), 10cm. (1616) and his largest pair at 68cm. diameter in 1617. Keuning has shown that the name of Blaeu did not appear on a globe until at least 1621, adopted to avoid confusion with his nearest rival, the firm of Johannes Janssonius, and taken from his grandfather's nickname, "Blue " William; updated versions of all the pairs apart from the largest have been recorded, bearing the name of Blaeu. As well as these globes, Blaeu made a tellurian to illustrate Copernican theory; is the attributed maker of a 5.3cm. terrestrial pocket globe; and in 1634 published his celebrated globe manual Tweevoudigh Onderwijs van de Hemelsche en Aerdsche Globen.
The 34cm. diameter celestial globe of 1603, of which the present example is a reissue, was an important updating of his first globe. In 1595 an expedition had set off from Amsterdam to find a route around the Cape of Good Hope. Various attempts had been made to find the fabled North-West Passage, without success, and a way for merchant ships to reach the East was considered imperative. However, another of the most influential and important figures in cartography of the early seventeenth century, astronomer Petrus Plancius (1552-1622), was able to dispatch those of the crew and passengers with an astronomical bent with two primary tasks: to observe variations of the magnetic compass, and to measure the positions of the stars of the southern celestial hemisphere, invisible year-round from Amsterdam and all other parts of Europe. One of these astronomers was the Frederik de Houtman credited on Blaeu's celestial globe, who was also a student of Adriaan Metius. The scientific result of this voyage was the discovery of twelve new constellations and the correct positioning of the Southern Cross, whose figures were designed by Plancius and first published on Hondius's globe of 1598. Thus, somewhat ironically, the first globe made by the master of seventeenth-century Dutch globe-making was out of date almost immediately, with large blank areas in the southern hemisphere. Because of reasons similar to copyright, Blaeu had no resource to Plancius's information and so he dispatched Houtman on a second expedition himself, and incorporated the data gathered on his 1603 celestial globe, hence Houtman's name on the cartouche. Houtman's positioning of the constellations was slightly different from that used by Plancius based on the ealier information, and so the strange situation occurred where subsequent to Hondius's globe in 1598 and Blaeu's five years later, Dutch globes appear with either of the two sets of positional data. However, in the first quarter or so of the seventeenth century no matter which chart they followed, Dutch globes were the only ones available to navigators that showed these southern constellations.
After Willem's death, the company was taken over by his son Joan (c.1598-1673), who in turn ceded it to Joan II (1650-1712). Both continued to reissue Willem's globes, and this practice carried on even after the firm was sold to Jan Jansz van Ceulen (1635-1689) on 2 July 1682. The reason for the sale is not clear since by the mid seventeenth century, through the acquisition of other firms' copper plates and tools, the Blaeus had an almost complete monopoly on globe-making in the Netherlands. Despite altering nothing but the address on the terrestrial globe, van Ceulen took this monopoly even further, applying for and receiving, in 1682, a charter for the sole production of globes in Holland for the next 15 years. Van Ceulen's estate was purchased after his death by Johannes de Ram (1648-93) and following his death his widow, Maria van Zutphen, was remarried to Jacques de la Feuille (1668-1719) in 1696. De la Feuille's are the last known reissues of Blaeu's globes, and Dekker records rather sadly that "drink and abuse of his wife seem to have been de la Feuille's only recorded activities and helped to put a sad end to a glorious globe-making enterprise, renowned over Europe".