The Maps of Willem Buytewech

by James A. Welu

The first artist to use wall maps as a major motif in interior scenes was Willem Buytewech (1591-1624). A leading pioneer of genre interiors, Buytewech worked at Haarlem from around 1612 to 1617, after which he returned to his native city of Rotterdam, where he spent the rest of his relatively short career. Of the ten paintings given to Buytewech, four include wall maps. Two of his merry company pictures – one painted around 1617-1620 (fig. 1), the other around 1620-1622 (fig. 2) – feature wall maps with the legible title HOLANDIA. These cartographic backgrounds serve to associate both scenes specifically with the province where the pictures were painted.

Those unfamiliar with cartography of the sixteenth and seventeenth century may not recognize the geographical contents of Buytewech's two maps of Holland, for both are oriented with south at the top. At this time the designing of maps with north at the top was not yet a standardized practice; a map could be arranged with north at the left, right, or bottom, according to the preference of the cartographer. Wall maps of this period were usually made up of a number of engraved sheets which for display purposes were mounted onto a linen backing, then hand colored and given a coat of varnish. These large maps were often framed or mounted on rollers, as illustrated in the Budapest painting (fig. 1). Because of their size and exposure to light and climatic changes, wall maps were much more vulnerable than atlas or folio-size maps. The number of originals that survive from the sixteenth and seventeenth century is extremely low. In fact, catalogues, inventories and other documents from the period list numerous wall maps of which not a single original is known.

1. Willem Buytewech, Merry Company, ca. 1620-1622.

Canvas, 72.4 x 65.4 cm. Budapest, Szèpmüvèszeti Muzeum


2. Willem Buytewech, Merry Company, ca. 1617-1620. Canvas, 49.3 x 68 cm. Rotterdam, Museum Boymans-van Beuningen

  • 16-4-2010

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