Van Keulen Family History:

Founded in Amsterdam in 1678 by Dutch cartographer and maritime publisher Johannes van Keulen (1654-1715), the firm In de Gekroonde Lootsman (In the Crowned Pilot) grew to become one of the most important publishers of nautical atlases and pilot books in all of Holland, at a time when the Netherlands was still the center of this activity. Van Keulen began by registering with the Amsterdam Booksellers’ Guild as a “bookseller and cross-staff maker,” and in 1680 was granted an “official privilege” from the States of Holland and West Friesland to print pilot guides and sea atlases. His entrance into the world of maritime publishing came at a time when many of the 17th century’s most important Dutch nautical map and chart makers had either ceased operations or were nearing the end of their careers, giving van Keulen the opportunity to obtain their stocks, copperplates, and privileges; his procurement in 1693 of the stock of Hendrik Doncker — whose highly accurate work was frequently copied — is often cited in historical overviews as van Keulen’s most pivotal early acquisition. 

Van Keulen first gained recognition with the publication in 1680 of Volume 1 of his Zee-Atlas (Sea Atlas), one of many nautical atlases published in the second half of the 17th century, but the only one to be cited by the website of the Utrecht University Library of Special Collections as being ‘new” and “expanded,” claims routinely made by its predecessors. The following year, van Keulen followed up his initial success with the publication of the first volume of his Nieuwe Lichtende Zee-Fakkel (New Shining Sea Torch), a five volume sea pilot book published between 1681-1684 (with a sixth volume added in 1753) that brought his firm lasting international acclaim. Featuring charts compiled by cartographer Claes Jansz Vooght (1638?-1696) and original artwork by renowned illustrator/engraver Jan Luyken, the hand-colored Zee-Fakkel was one of the most successful nautical publications in both the 17th and 18th centuries, with numerous editions being printed until the year 1783. Over the years translations appeared in French, English, Spanish, and Italian, with new charts constantly added and the original ones revised to reflect updated information. The volume published in 1682 was the first one in which the map of Bermuda appeared, one of only two large nautical charts of the island produced by Dutch cartographers in the last quarter of the 17th century. Moreover, with the Golden Age of Dutch Cartography soon to pass into history, and along with it the kind of artistic aesthetic for which its maps became known, the map of Bermuda’s artwork by Jan Luyken is one of the final examples of the era’s devotion to highly skilled decorative enhancements.

The success of both the Zee-Atlas and the Zee-Fakkel not only put the van Keulen publishing concern on firm footing, but set the stage for a cartographic dynasty that would remain under van Keulen family leadership until the middle of the 19th century. With Johannes’ death in 1715, control of the firm passed to his son, Gerard van Keulen (1678-1726), a talented engraver and mathematician who in 1706 had been appointed Hydrographer to the Dutch East India Company (VOC), which at the time was the world’s most powerful corporation (often acting as a “stand-in” for the Dutch government). In addition to publishing new editions of his father’s works, Gerard expanded the flourishing business, adding books on every aspect of geography, navigation, and nautical matters to the firm’s chart making foundation. He also produced hundreds of manuscript charts, which are now maintained in a number of important European collections. In 1726 Gerard’s son, Johannes II van Keulen (1704-1770), took over the business. He was appointed “Chartmaker to the Dutch East India Company” in 1743, in effect giving the van Keulen charts the status of being the “official” charts of the Dutch government, a distinction lasting until the 1799 dissolution of the VOC. In 1753, Johannes completed his grandfather’s work, publishing the sixth and final volume of the Zee-Fakkel. This volume contained the previously kept secret cartography of The East India Archipelago, which had been collected and used exclusively by the VOC. (Until then, the maps had never been publicly distributed or sold. Merchants were required to return the maps to the VOC after each journey in order to keep the trade routes secret.) Jan de Marre, examiner of the Amsterdam Chamber of the VOC, provided Johannes II with the data for the Zee-Fakkel’s sixth volume, and it is also believed that de Marre was involved in the van Keulen firm’s decision to start production of the newly invented Hadley’s Octant in 1744. Following the death in 1770 of Johannes II, the company was run by his widow and their two sons, Cornellis Buys van Keulen (1736-1778) and Gerard Hulst van Keulen (1733-1801). By this time, the firm also owned an anchor factory, which was managed separately. In 1778, upon the death of his brother Cornellis, Gerard Hulst van Keulen assumed leadership of the firm, adding sextants to its inventory for sale. Gerard Hulst van Keulen was one of the three original members of the "Dutch Commission for Longitude at Sea", installed by the Dutch Admiralty in 1787, and in 1788, he published the first Dutch Nautical Almanac, with annual editions appearing until 1885. When he died in 1801, his widow ran the firm until 1810, at which time their son, Johannes Hulst van Keulen, became the last van Keulen to head the firm; with his death in 1844, Jacob Swert — a well known cartographer and expert on navigation already in the company’s employ —  became director, the first time an outsider had alone guided van Keulen interests. This handover came at a time of sweeping changes in the world of navigation: As a result of the transition from sailing to steam shipping, the number of ships and seafarers — and consequently the number of buyers of maps, instruments and books — decreased substantially, seriously impacting the firm’s fortunes. In 1885, following over 200 years of operation — most of them at the forefront of maritime cartography —  what remained of In de Gekroonde Lootsman closed its doors, its assets dispersed at auction.Map of Bermuda:

One of only two large nautical charts of Bermuda to appear in Holland in the last quarter of the 17th century, Pas Kaart Van I. La Barmuda Anders Sommer Ilands first appeared in the 1682 edition of van Keulen’s seminal work, Zee-Fakkel. In addition to the map’s remarkable size — doubtlessly reflecting its origin as either a royal commission or special request from the Dutch East India Company — as well as the quality of craftsmanship and period detailing by cartographer Claus Jansz Vooght, the map has the distinction of featuring artwork and hand coloring by Jan Luyken, of whom the National Library of the Netherlands has said: “To this day, he numbers among the most important illustrators of his time.” Here, Luyken’s decorative additions include a miniaturized galleon and compass rose, along with a crisscrossing web of rhumblines, but the highlight of his work is the transformation of the title and scale-bar cartouches into rock-like objects, upon which several mythological/biblical figures known as “cherubs” have gathered: in one case (the title cartouche), to seek safety from a dangerous sea creature, and in the other (the scale-bar cartouche), to serenely relax in the sun. The former is one of the earliest known instances in which Bermuda is portrayed as a refuge from the perils of the sea, and the latter possibly the first time (according to at least one cartographic expert) that the island is depicted as a “resort” for those who love the beach. Because of the oncoming pragmatism of 18th century mapmakers, the map is also one of the final examples of the Golden Age of Dutch Cartography, wherein lushly decorative flourishes created by skilled illustrators and engravers transformed practical navigational tools into lasting works of art. 

Written July 2018 by Brian Flon, author of "Hell's Kitchen Requiem" (2014), available as an e-book at Amazon, iTunes, and Barnes & Noble.

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