Leo Belgicus

By AITZING, Michael von; DOETECUM, Johan van; GERRITSZ, Hessel; VAN DER KEERE, Pieter; VISSCHER, Nicolas; VISSCHER. Claes Jansz, 1583 
£350,000
£280,000

[A collection of nine maps].

Europe Low Countries
  • Author: AITZING, Michael von; DOETECUM, Johan van; GERRITSZ, Hessel; VAN DER KEERE, Pieter; VISSCHER, Nicolas; VISSCHER. Claes Jansz
  • Publication date: 1583
  • Inventory reference: 18600

Notes

The Leo Belgicus” is one of the most famous of all cartographic curiosities. The format depicts the XVII Provinces of the Low Countries in the form of a lion. The first Leo was produced by the Austrian Michael von Aitzing (item A) who, in 1583, included an example in his work De Leone Belgico’ that detailed the Netherlands’ war of independence against Hapsburg rule. In the introduction he gives his reasons for choosing the lion:

Considering wise King Solomon’s saying that the lion shuns confrontation with none but the strongest of animals, and reading in Julius Caesar’s Commentaries’ that the Belgae’ were the strongest of all tribes, I decided — and not without reason- to introduce the Netherlands in the shape of a lion. Moreover Charles V — blessed be his memory — thought of calling it the lion country, either because he wanted the Netherlands in future to be considered the prime of his realm, or perhaps because virtually all provinces carry a lion in their coat of arms. I took every care that you should see at a glance not only the whole of the Netherlands in the shape of a lion, but also the various provinces as part of its limbs and body.”

Aitzing’s Leo is a lion rampant facing east, with the lion’s back following the coastline. The image proved so popular that it was soon copied. The first do to so was Johan van Doetecum, who, in 1598, added a series of portraits (item B). He was followed by the likes of Hendrik Floris van Langren in 1609 (item C), and Famiano Strada (item I).

In 1608, the famed cartographer Hessel Gerritsz published a new version with the Netherlands orientated with west at the top. Again the lion’s back follows the coastline, however, this time he is shown walking on all fours (passant), with his head facing to the south — towards the Spanish threat. Although no example of Gerritsz’ original survives, the map was reprinted by, among others, Cornelius Danckerts (item D), and Hugo Allard (item E). The signing of the Twelve Year Truce in 1609, by the Dutch Republic, the Southern Netherlands, and Hapsburg Spain, proved a catalyst for another version of the Leo Belgicus.

In around 1611, Claes Jansz. Visscher published his Bestandskaart’ or Truce Map’ (item F) – a lion at rest in a sitting position; his right paw on the hilt of a lowered sword. The map is replete with allusions to the fruits of peace: to the right of the lion, war – personified by a knight in a full suit of armour – is shown asleep, and to the left personifications of North and South are shown seated together with d’Oude Twist” (the old rancour) buried under foot. A cherub pours the sweet nectar of the Bestant van 12 jaer” (the 12 Year Truce) into the mouth of the lion; heavenly blessing zeghen des hemels” descends upon the country. These bring with it arts and sciences (“Const en Wetenschap”); safety (“Vailighe Tijdt”); knowledge and wealth (“Kennisse en Rijkdom”); prosperous towns (“ t Vergrooten der Steden”); the cultivation of the land (“ t Vredich Lantbouwen”), and trade (“Coophandel”). Yet even in these peaceful times the frontier guard (“Frontier Wacht”) remains alert. At the end of the 12 Year Truce, Visscher published his Leo Hollandicus’ (items G & H).

In stark contrast to his Truce Map’, the Hollandicus depicts a lion rampant facing east and brandishing a cutlass, with the patriotic motto Patriae Defensio” (Defender of the Country), engraved upon the blade. Above the lion are depictions of Dutch citizens, with iceboats and wind carts, to the borders are vignettes of Dutch towns, with the coats-of-arms of the towns in the province of Holland, below. Whereas Visscher’s Truce Map’ celebrated the fruits of peace that came with the cessation of hostilities; the Hollandicus’ highlighted the Dutch Republic’s determination to defend its new-found independence. The map also emphasizes the breaking apart of the XVII Provinces, between the Republican north and the Spanish-controlled south.

So potent was the lion as a symbol, that it was used to depict the Low Countries long after the war with Spain had ended. One such example is item I, which appeared in Wilhelm Serlin’s Hollandischer Mercurius’ of 1672. The lion is combined with an engraving of three equestrian figures. He rests his right paw upon a shield; below is a description of the Netherlands, and to the left Louis XIV is shown on horseback, being crowned with a laurel wreath by a winged Victory. Here the lion has been subjugated by the might of France, with their victory at Nijmegen in 1672, depicted below Louis’ horse.

A. AITZING, Michael von Leo Belgicus. Publication [Cologne, Gerardus Campensis, 1583]. Description Double-page engraved map, contemporary hand colour, trimmed to neatline and inlaid, minor loss to printed surface. Dimensions 370 by 455mm (14.5 by 18 inches). References Van der Heijden 1.1.
B. DOETECUM, Johan van Leo Belgicus. Publication [The Hague], Henricus Hondius, 1630. Description Hand-coloured separately-issued engraved map, some loss to borders skilfully repaired. Dimensions 430 by 550mm (17 by 21.75 inches). References Heijden 3.2.; BNF Ancien fonds Archives 1941; Schilder, Monumenta, vol.1, p. 31 (note 95), and p. 37.
C. VAN DER KEERE, Pieter Leo Belgicus Publication [Amsterdam], Pieter van der Keere, [1622]. Description Double-page engraved map, handcoloured in outline and heightened in gold, French text to verso. Dimensions 370 by 450mm (14.5 by 17.75 inches). References Van der Heijden 4.2 (noting three examples of the first state, one no longer traceable).
D. GERRITSZ, Hessel Leo Belgicus Publication Amsterdam, Cornelis Dankerts, 1640. Description Hand-coloured double-page engraved map, trimmed to neatline, remargined. Dimensions 430 by 560mm (17 by 22 inches). References Unrecorded in van der Heijden, but intermediate between 15.4 and 15.5.
E. GERRITSZ, Hessel Leo Belgicus Ampliss. ac Prudentiss D.D. Praetori, Consulibus Totique Senatui Reip… 1665. Publication Amsterdam, Hugo Allard, 1665. Description Engraved map, hand-coloured in outline. Dimensions 430 by 555mm (17 by 21.75 inches). References Van der Heijden, 15.5, noting three examples.
F. VISSCHER. Claes Jansz Novissima et Accuratissima Leonis Belgici seu Septemdecim Regionum Descriptio. Auct: N.I. Visschero. Publication Amsterdam, Claes Jansz Visscher, [1611- 1621 or later]. Description Hand-coloured engraved map. Dimensions 470 by 580mm (18.5 by 22.75 inches). References Heijden 5.2.
G. VISSCHER, Nicolas Comitatus Hollandiae Deuno Formâ Leonis Curiosè Editus a Nicolao Johannis Visscher Anno 1648. Publication Amsterdam, Nicolao Johannis Visscher, 1648. Description Hand-coloured engraved map. Dimensions 470 by 580mm (18.5 by 22.75 inches). References Heijden 23.3.
H. VISSCHER, Nicolas Comitatus Hollandiae Deuno Formâ Leonis Curiosè Editus a Nicolao Johannis Visscher Anno 1648. Publication Amsterdam, Nicolao Johannis Visscher, 1648. Description Hand-coloured engraved map, upper border with loss skilfully repaired in facsimile. Dimensions 470 by 580mm (18.5 by 22.75 inches). References Heijden 23.3.
I. [Anonymous] Geometrischer Entwurf Der Gesammten XVII Niederländischen Provintzien. Publication [Frankfurt, Wilhelm Serlin, 1672]. Description Hand-coloured engraved map. Dimensions 410 by 515mm (16.25 by 20.25 inches). References Heijden 22. 

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