Leen Helmink Antique Maps

Old books, maps and prints by Hessel Gerritsz

Hessel Gerritsz (1581/82-1632)

Master engraver and Map Maker, who 'ruled' the Seas

Hessel Gerritsz. (1580/81) ranks among the most important and influential cartographers of the early-seventeenth-century Amsterdam. He started his career in Willem Jansz. Blaeu's workshop. About 1608 he established himself as an independent engraver, mapmaker and printer.

In his position as chart-maker of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) and West India Company (WIC) he had access to the latest ship logs, he equipped the ships to the east and the west with the latest charts, and was the best informed cartogrepher of the era.


"Unquestionably the chief Dutch cartographer of the 17th century."


His fame as cartographer grew rapidly to the point that on 16 October 1617 he was appointed the first exclusive cartographer of the Dutch East India Company (VOC), probably the most strategic position a cartographer could have in those days. He got the position by recommendation of Petrus Plancius, chief scientist and advisor of the VOC, who did not get along with the more senior Willem Blaeu. Gerritsz kept this post until his death in 1632, after which the position was given to Willem Blaeu after all (Plancius had passed away in 1622).


In 1617, Hessel Gerritsz. published a large wall map of Italy in six sheets. His model for the geographical content was the wall map published by Giovanni Antonio Magini (1555-1617) in 1608, which was a milestone in the seventeenth century Italian cartography.45 He gave his wall map an extra cachet by extending the map image with town views and costumed figures. The design of the costumed figures is attributed to Pieter Lastman (1583-1633), the exquisite execution betraying the hand of the master etcher Gerritsz.

Gerritsz.' wall map of Italy was copied shortly after publication by the publishing house of Willem Jansz. [Blaeu]. To protect himself against such plagiarism in the future, he requested a patent from the States General. On 27 January 1618, they granted him a general patent in which amongst other things it was forbidden in any way to reproduce, copy or distribute his maps, descriptions of lands and prototypes ('models') both written or printed. Such an extensive patent was highly unusual, in the most cases a privilege was granted for precisely defined publications. Hessel Gerritsz. was so highly regarded in 1617, that he received such an important privilege from the States General in January 1618, shown by his appointment as instructor in geography for the Councillors of the Admiralty at Amsterdam on 15 July 1617 and as map maker for the Chamber Amsterdam of the VOC on 16 October 1617. With both appointments his old employer Willem Jansz. [Blaeu] was passed over.

With the appointment of Hessel Gerritsz. as map maker of the Chamber Amsterdam – a function which he held until his death in 1632 – the VOC brought a driven person into the house who undertook the organization of equipping the ships with charts and navigational aids with vigour. The instructions issued to him by the Chamber Amsterdam in 1619, give a good insight into what was expected from a map maker of the VOC. Because all merchants, masters and pilots were obliged to deliver the journals, maps and drawings made during the voyage to him on their arrival in Texel, with the aid of this material he was able to improve and expand the charts for the navigation to and from the Indies. The influential position that Hessel Gerritsz. held in equipping the VOC ships with charts cannot be overrated, for within a very short period he developed certain prototypes of charts, which – with some small adjustments – were part of the standard equipment of a VOC ship, sometimes until the middle of the eighteenth century.


Hessel Gerritsz items for sale