Tuesday - 02 September 2014

The Lion of the Low Countries

31 May 2005Written by ATG Reporter

by Ian McKayUNDOUBTEDLY one of the more famous of cartographic curiosities, the ‘Leo Belgicus’ map, in which the 17 provinces of the Low Countries are depicted in the form of a lion, was first introduced by Michael Eitzinger as part of a topographical and historical account of the Netherlands, published in Cologne in 1583.

It may have been just an inspired piece of superimposition, or perhaps the idea was suggested by the fact that most of the 17 provinces feature a lion in their coat of arms. Whatever the reason, it proved enormously popular.

A number of later engravers and publishers produced their own more or less elaborate versions, and the example reproduced right is a 1655 issue of a version produced by
Hessel Gerritsz, which may have introduced a new sub-species of the Low Countries Lion.

The original Eitzinger map has the lion standing and facing to the right, with its right paw raised - that is to say with north oriented in the more familiar fashion at the top, and with the tail curled in the North Sea. In the tail between the legs, Gerritsz version*, north is at the right. A third version, which shows only Holland, is not too surprisingly known as the 'Leo Hollandicus'.

In a May 12 travel sale at Sotheby's that saw some sticky patches among the more highly valued maps and atlases, this copy of the Gerritsz version, published by Hugo
Allardt and exhibiting contemporary outline colour, provided one of the day's more satisfying results. The side margins are rather narrow and it has been strengthened at the fold, but it sold on the low estimate at £20,000 (Shapero).

Also sold at £20,000, this time to Arader, was a copy of Herman Moll's The World Described of 1719. Many of the 26 engraved maps have splits at the folds, some with loss. The damage is most extensive on the two world maps, the famous 'Beaver' map of North America and those of the West Indies and South America, but many of the maps are in early states and they show unusual contemporary colour.

A 1575 Venetian edition of Camocio's well known Isolario or island book, containing 78 charts, maps, plans and birds-eye views of the Mediterranean and Near East sold at £22,000, and a rival Isolario issued by Simon Pinargenti of Venice in 1573, this one with 50 maps and battle plans, reached £20,000.

* I have also seen this left facing Lion described as the Cornelius Jansson form.

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