Joan Blaeu, Archipelagus Orientalis, sive Asiaticus (detail), 1663,
Recording date:

The map Archipelagus Orientalis, sive Asiaticus (Eastern or Asian Archipelago) is a historical goldmine; it records the first sighting of Tasmania and the first mapping of the New Zealand coast by Europeans. It became the template for all subsequent maps of 'New Holland', or Australia. After being acquired by the Library in 2013 and displayed in the exhibition Mapping Our World: Terra Incognita to Australia, the map underwent intense restoration. Now, after four years of conservation work, see for yourself the amazing results. Martin Woods, Curator of Maps, and Libby Melzer, conservator at the Grimwade Centre, will explain the restoration journey as it returns to display in our Treasures Gallery for a limited time only.

A Treasures Gallery Access Program, supported by National Library Patrons

*Speakers: Marie-Louise Ayres (M), Martin Woods (W), Libby Melzer (L)

*Audience: (A)

*Location: National Library of Australia

*Date: 11 November 2017



M:        - before. Right, in that case I’m going to just say friends instead of you know distinguished ladies and gentlemen so friends, welcome to the National Library of Australia. I’m Marie-Louise Ayres, and it’s my privilege to be the Director-General of the National Library. Now this afternoon we are welcoming the return of Joan Blaeu’s extraordinary map to the National Library and of course I begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which the Library stands and which over tens of thousands of years has been mapped and understood in ways quite different to the one that we’re celebrating this afternoon. I thank their elders past and present for caring for this land that we call home and for so often making us welcome here.

Now the Blaeu map, Archipelagus Orientalis, sive Asiaticus, has been on quite a journey and we only know a small part of its story. For us the journey began in a storage facility in Sweden in 2010 where the map was believed to have spent most of its later life – believed – we’re not really sure about that – stored away and forgotten. The National Library acquired the map in 2013 with assistance from the Federal Government and of course we brought it to Australia. After treatment by the Library’s expert preservation staff it was displayed during Mapping Our World.

Between those two sentences there’s a little bit of a gap, it came to Australia and we were able to make it available in 2013 but in fact the map came to us in a very parlous condition and a great deal of work was needed at the Library just to even make it possible for us to display for quite a short period of time.

Following the exhibition further analysis and extensive conservation treatment was undertaken here at the Library and at the Grimwade Centre for Cultural Materials conversation at the University of Melbourne and this work was funded through generous donations made by the Library’s patrons and supporters who in fact donated more than $100,000 to this task.

Now the map has returned to the library and we are delighted to be able to display it again in our Treasures Gallery. For those who saw the map in 2013 and indeed for those of us who saw it before the work that was – had to be done so that you could see it in 2013, you’ll be astonished by how beautiful and robust it looks now compared to then.

Now Dr Martin Woods, the Library’s Curator of Maps, has worked closely with his preservation colleagues and with Grimwade Centre staff on the treatment of the map so please join me in welcoming Martin to speak further about the map and then we’ll hear from Libby Melzer who’ll talk about the preservation work that was done at the Grimwade Centre.


W:       Is it just me or is it very sticky at the moment? Test the technology. Okay well welcome and this is a great moment for us but – and I want to talk more about the creation of the map rather than its arrival at the Library. We did a bit of that in 2013 with Mapping Our World but we can talk about that afterwards, we’ve got some time for questions etc. But I should make a brief reference to what such maps might look like and what sort of attention they bring and as you can see there their appearance and reappearance is newsworthy. We’ve had quite a lot of media this week associated with the relaunch, Blaeu 2, as I like to call it and that’s the original map there and I think we’ll see more of it in Libby’s presentation.

But the first question to answer is why did Blaeu produce the map? So why produce a wall map at all in fact? Large maps and topographic paintings were part of what made the world go ‘round in the 17th century, it was mapping for money. State records in The Netherlands reveal that wall maps were listed alongside paintings. Cartographers responded to interest in maps and advertised them to be hung and it’s interesting to realise too from those listings that all maps by masters such as Blaeu commanded higher prices than Vermeer’s paintings, for example. It’s a different story today.

But this was Dutch affluence in the 17th century which had much to do with trade in Asia. From the 16th century Europeans sailed to Asian markets on a regular basis. Soon after their first expedition in 1595 the Dutch were able to surpass the Portuguese and other European trade in Asia.

Now how they did so is a topic for another day but there is probably no better demonstration of the key role – there’s the advertisement of the map which I’ll refer to later – there’s no better demonstration of the role of maps than the Royal Palace, Amsterdam in those days in 1648, a grand new town hall to recognise the trade in Asia and the riches that had come with it.

That’s my tourist snapshot from a rather prejudiced point of view.

So why did Blaeu create this particular map? Well according to him it was the most banal of reasons. So in other words because he couldn’t fit all the islands on his already crowded map of Asia. I think there’s probably more to it than that and to understand this you need to go back to 1659 and what was happening in Europe and as you would expect there was a lot of politics going. Europe, France, England, the Dutch Republic signed the Concert at The Hague, an attempt to mediate conflict between Sweden and many other warring parties. At this time too the Dutch, English relations had settled somewhat after the first Anglo Dutch war. Merchants on both sides sought advantage and a consortium of Dutch sugar merchants led by Johannes Klencke devised a suitable gift to present to Charles II on his restoration to the throne in 1660. This was a gigantic atlas produced by Blaeu and others of the best Dutch mapmakers.

Charles was a noted map fanatic who understood the geopolitical influence of maps and he himself was influenced by his cartographers who were influenced by Dutch cartographers. The gift was one of three gigantic atlases presented to key statesmen from 1660 to 1662, it was such a good idea and a much reduced version is out here on the front table, you can look at that afterwards.

Naturally Klencke had to impress the King and gain favourable trade agreements with Britain. The Klencke atlas comprised mostly maps by Blaeu, the world map published by him in 1648 and a specially prepared set of wall maps, the world, the four continents and our map of the East Indies. The atlas earned Klencke a knighthood. Negotiations with England did not result in an alliance and a second Anglo Dutch war erupted.

But let’s leave the European geopolitics to one side. Here’s an example of the map in full size, the atlas in full size, I should say. There’s a video online that you can see of Peter Barber and others pulling the atlas out of storage in the British Library and rolling it into this display area, opening it up on a table and examining it in more detail.

So I’d like to look at our map and start with the cartouche so we’re back to geopolitics, I’m afraid. Cartouche is an important part of the 17th century world of maps and decorative design on maps is as old as mapping itself. The introduction of the cartouche, a panel bearing the title and other facts about a map, sometimes surrounded by an ornamental frame was fairly well developed practice by the time Blaeu produced his wall maps.

Of course nothing is merely decorative on a Dutch map. The map cartouche became a special branch of artwork in The Netherlands. Behind the pseudoclassical figures, costume and scroll work lie other interests, the Eurasian wild pig, the water buffalo, a turtle, the [cassary] – like the turtle, an important source of food - and implements are there, creating overall a sense of rather ripe abundance.

More importantly the islands are giving up their valuable spices, mediated by local kingdoms. On the cushion in the foreground opposite a curved sword is laid on a pillow cushion, a sign of loyalty. And the central goddess figure above under the shade of an umbrella held by a slave holds two spears and [leans] of the source of Dutch power, a rudder with the prow of a ship protruding up in the background. Over there on the right-hand side the framed cartouche is where Blaeu spells out the method of calculating distances, latitude and longitude points for the East Indies and the geometry that underpinned this.

So let’s look further at the mapping itself. The map actually comprises four maps, Blaeu included the main map of south Asia and Australia and then three inset maps. The top inset is of the now troubled waters between Japan and Korea which at the time were mapped for their fabled islands of precious metals.

As you might expect the mapping of southeast Asia is the most developed. When the Portuguese arrived in southeast Asia in the early 16th century they found people with cultures roughly analogous with their own including languages and religions. European supremacy existed in terms of military technology. When the Dutch arrived about a century later the VOC clad with sovereign rights by the state’s general tried to push back the Portuguese influence by taking over their trade contracts.

There are several components to the map which does indeed show as Blaeu wanted all the islands of the eastern archipelago. You can see here the centre of power, Batavia. Over here, the Spice Islands. You can see all the straits, the Java Sea where much trade and exchange was occurring within Asia. Some hazards, both natural and Spanish over here. And many other elements. The central parts of the islands are not as well developed but as you’ll see they’re far better developed than Australia was at this time.

So there was no doubt in Blaeu’s mind what he was chiefly depicting. For him and all who benefitted from the trade the chief parts of Asia were the innumerable islands and he lists them all in the text surrounding the map of the Spice Islands. In particular he spends great time listing and describing and it’s worth a read and we’ve translated the French text and added it to our catalogue record.

In the text too Blaeu spends little time on New Holland but let’s have a look at the mapping. In the half century before the map was produced the Dutch had mapped perhaps two-thirds of the Australian coastline, much of it in two expeditions by Abel Tasman in the 1640s. This was the first published map to show the findings in any detail. Tasman sailed from Batavia with two ships, the yacht, Heemskerk and the flute, Zeehaen in August 1642, circling west of Australia and coming in below the Great Australian Bite and sighting Tasmania on the 24th of November. As he claimed, this land is the first land in the south sea which is met by us and is still unknown to European peoples so I have given the land the name of Antony Van Diemen’s land in honour of the Honourable Governor General of our illustrious master who sent us out to make this discovering. Blaeu’s map is the first published to reveal the date.

Remnants of the voyage journals are available and I won’t go into that in detail however here and there on the coast of southern Tasmania Tasman made some observations about hearing the sound of an instrument sounding like a horn not far from them, about thick forest in places, of trees that appear gashed with flints and the barks peeled off at five foot gaps which he assumed meant that either the inhabitants were very tall or extremely adept at climbing trees. He noted as well the tracks of some animals not unlike the claws of a tiger and the various shellfish hanging together in clusters. It was a flying visit however. On the 3rd of December just a week after observing Macquarie Harbour on the west coast Tasman placed a pole in Marion Bay on the east coast with the company’s emblem cut in it so that later people may perceive we have been here and taken possession.

As luck would have it the northerly was blowing and the surf ran high as it does at this time of the year. At sunset they got a strong northerly wind which progressively rose to such a violent degree from the northwest that they were compelled to steer east. Though he again tried over the next two days to steer a course north the wind prevailed and he conceded and sailed promptly to New Zealand which he didn’t know was there, of course. But he was circling back to Batavia.

On December 13 they saw a large, high elevated land just here which is the northwest coast of the South Island. But it seems all the New Zealanders and the elements were against him as unfavourable tides prevented Tasman from correctly navigating the strait between New Zealand’s South and North Island. In this case Blaeu had no choice but to follow his lead and mismapped Cook Strait for a bite. On leaving the North Island he eventually turned northwest via Fiji to New Guinea and arrived at Batavia in June 1643.

According to surviving documents Tasman was commissioned for a second voyage to identify if there was any passage to the great south sea or Pacific and to find out whether the coast of New Guinea is actually connected to the land of New Holland. The voyage was victualled for 12 to 18 months, really to find a market in the countries to be discovered and both voyages were about this, finding markets out here. According to orders issued to Tasman once this was established further explorations were to be carried out of the south land and to see if the vast regions contained silver, gold or copper mines which in the view of the VOC leadership, particularly Van Diemen, there must be. In short Van Diemen was seeking his El Dorado, resembling that of the silver and gold-bearing regions of Peru, Chile, China and Japan and New Holland was part of this.

It wasn’t to be. While Tasman set off for his expedition for the true and complete discovery of the south land he spent days cautiously navigating the shallow bay or what he thought was a bay here to the south sea. Tasman, faced with a seemingly impossible network of channels, shoals and over a hundred small islands was unable to find a way through to the Pacific and he concluded that New Guinea and the present Australia formed one whole. And it remained for another 150 years.

Blaeu and his map was inclined to leave the possibility open, he was after all the Chief Cartographer of the VOC and had access to knowledge like his father before him about Spanish maps or manuscripts that revealed the voyage of Torres. But it wasn’t proven so he left it open.

Tasman continued his voyage by following the shore of the Gulf of Carpentaria westwards and mapped the north Australian coast. For the time being New Holland remained something of a mystery island, sometimes referred to as the fifth continent. Blaeu labelled it with provincial names covering great swathes of land mass, Carpentaria, Van Diemen’s Land, Arnhem’s Land and so on, perhaps in the hope of some future exploration and discoveries.

The map is surrounded on three sides by text and you can see that when we go into the galleries. It’s also the case in all the maps in the large atlas. These are letter press, pasted onto the border of the map to explain all the important economic, political, botanical and other features of the region. The text is in three languages, Latin, French and Dutch. It reads the map geographically left to right from the Maldives.

Blaeu’s description of each island shows distinct preference for the rich volcanic soils of the Spice Island group. The island of Ternate happily produces a variety of commodities, nutmeg, agarwood, sandalwood, ginger, pepper and cloves. Spice wafts over Blaeu’s text and describes each island in this way. Of cloves he says their [umbels] 19:33 like spring flowers when ready for harvest likened in colour to carnations. Line after line is given to description of each island and spice plant method and timing of harvest.

By contrast New Holland and New Zealand are given little text. Blaeu may have still intended to give them more attention as the Latin text concludes, and it’s not in the French about these places, the reader and spectator must rest content with this map until I, Blaeu, shall publish a large book full of maps and descriptions which is at present being prepared. Unfortunately the book the text refers to was never published and the drafts if any existed lost in the fire that took the Blaeu workshops and archive in 1672.

And I should add that it is a power map and I’d love to be able to animate this map at some point, it’s littered with Spanish and Dutch ships facing off and firing.

Thank you.


L:         Good afternoon, my name’s Libby Melzer, I’m the Senior Paper Conservator at the Grimwade Centre at the University of Melbourne and I was the project leader for the conversation of the Blaeu map from the University of Melbourne team.

I should say at the start this was a massive, a massive project for us and it was a fantastic chance to collaborate with the National Library but like all massive projects there was vast amounts of admin so we started – our first introduction to this map was a phone call back in August 2015 from Denyl Cloughly who is the head of - the head of conservation here at the National Library saying would we call her back and talk about quoting for the conservation of an important map? And one of our colleagues, Peter Michelson had said don’t call Denyl until you speak to me and Peter had actually been part of the National Library team that did the initial conservation and so then we did some mad Googling and said what is this Blaeu map and what does it all mean?

And so from August 2015 we did a massive you know consulting and tendering and visiting here and writing contracts and all of that culminated in May 2016 at a very, very cold, frosty morning with the Blaeu map in a bright orange crate on its way down to see us.

And at 3:30pm on that same day after lots of checks along the way between Martin and our team and Denyl and our team about where exactly it was it arrived with a very tired NLA courier there who’d been with it the whole time. And once it was in our labs – here is our lovely courier again, in its spot where it stayed for the next 14 months but we couldn’t open it yet, it had to stay. For 24 hours it had to rest and acclimatise to its new environment so we left it there and didn’t touch it for 24 hours and we gave this very tired courier, Rachel, a cup of tea and sent her back. I won’t say hysterical, just very tired.

And then the following day we were able to open the crate. And look, I must say even getting it on the crate to Melbourne was a very, very big deal for the National Library conservators because as Marie-Louise said it was too fragile to even be put all the way up so to be packed into a crate and to cover that distance, there was a lot of effort that went into just making sure that it was not going to shake all its bits off. But we opened it up and there were a few little fragments off which we dutifully collected and reported back, that it was the best case scenario, that it had arrived beautifully intact.

And here it was as it arrived with us in May. And it’s – this is what it looked like and I quote Martin at the time, it had integrated muddy wholeness, it was a very sort of uniform brown so there were a lot of problems that we already knew about it before it came down so it had a lot of losses, it had a lot of cracking because of this heavy varnish layer that had become brittle. It had at least two fabric linings. So the varnish had already been analysed before it came down so we knew that it was a mastic varnish which is a plant resin so it’s often used for varnishing paintings. And we knew that this was not contemporary with the map itself, we knew that this was not an original varnish and the reason we knew this is because it was covering areas of damage so this was a later edition, it was obscuring a lot of the information so we thought this was going to be one of our big challenges, was getting the varnish off to reveal what was underneath.

The other issue that we’re aware of is these – you would have seen from Martin’s closeups – all these coastlines where the paper was incredibly fragile and it almost looks like it’s burnt. And that was a result of the green pigment that had been used to highlight the coastlines and this – so it’s all black now but this was a green pigment known as verdigris and verdigris is a very chemically unstable pigment so it’s copper acetate so it’s basically created by exposing pieces of copper to acidic vapours, usually sort of vinegar so from wine and this copper pigment, look, it’s known to be unstable from medieval times. It has a couple of things going on so the acetate, the acidic acid, leaches into the paper and it degrades the paper and while that acid is quickly evaporated off it actually creates its own acids in the paper and these continue rolling on, degrading the paper.

The other issue is that it has these copper ions that float around and these copper ions also degrade the paper and it’s also this sort of autocatalytic process that just keeps rolling on so we knew this was going to be a big challenge because if there were free copper ions floating around and we introduced more moisture we could make things worse. So it became a big challenge of ours to figure out the chemistry of the copper pigment.

So before we even touched the map so we’ve had – what is this, eight months of admin? And it’s arrived, it’s acclimatised, we’ve opened up – before anyone touched the map we started a big project of analysing the materials and documenting everything that we had so we knew we had a very clear picture.

So the first thing you need to know about the map is it’s not one piece of paper, it is 40 separate pieces of paper with two textile linings and these 40 separate pieces of paper have been – there’s three different printing processes so the central six of the map are copperplate engravings, the text panels around the edges are letterpress and the title up the top is – were block-printed. And that became incredibly important as we proceeded because each of those components, they’re different inks, they’re different papers and they behaved in different ways so we actually ended up having to treat almost like three objects, we had to take different approaches depending on which area of the map we were working on.

So we started out by creating a very systematic way of discussing it so that when we communicated with the National Library here from Melbourne we knew exactly where we were talking about so we had a nice grid system and everything we did henceforth always related to that grid. We did a very complicated overlay, we had a very patient staff member who spent about one week going over the entire surface of the map and marking every detail so you can see down here, she marked everything that was a crack versus a crease versus surface loss versus full paper loss, nail holes, where the first lining was present and where we could see the underlining and that was the second lining and that became very important as well because it turned out that there was a lot more of the original lining left than we thought, we thought there wasn’t very much and the more we documented we realised that it was almost fully intact. Here there was adhesive and when there had been previous repairs.

We photographed the map once again following that grid pattern so every one of those gridded sections was photographed in various lighting conditions which gave us different information so this is what you’d imagine, a regular front-on photograph. This is what’s described as raking light which is we photograph it with a light coming from oblique angle and that gives you a really good indication of exactly what the surface plane is. We photographed it with UV light and this was informative because it showed us – where you can see those bright spots, that’s the extent of the varnish and where you can see these really degraded areas, the black areas, that’s the extent of where the copper degradation had gone to so the healthy paper looks like this and the degraded paper looks like that.

We also photographed it using infrared and infrared’s very sensitive for carbon which is the pigment of the printing ink and so this was a lovely process because what it showed was underneath all of this almost all of the original map was still there, it was intact, it was just hidden.

We did a lot of chemical analysis so this is Dr Caroline Chee, she’s one of our conservation scientist. They did – her and another conservation scientist, Dr Stephanie Alexander, did an awful lot of chemical testing on the materials and normally what happens with analysing you know heritage objects is we’re very, very constrained like you use a lot of you know processes that don’t require any samples and that are non-destructive. In this case because the map had come – had been through a lot by the time it arrived the National Library presented us with a map and with a bag of fragments so our scientists were in heaven ‘cause they were able to start with destructive tests so what they did were things – microchemical tests which is basically applying a reagent and looking for a result. XRF which is what you can see going on here which looks for elements so that was a pigment identification. FTIR, we use that to identify the varnish which has already been done but we followed up and also the binders of the paints.

And so we had this very, very good picture of what was underneath the varnish that we couldn’t see by this stage and we made a couple of interesting discoveries so for instance there were two greens, there wasn’t just one green, there were two greens. This fully degraded black here was originally the verdigris but there was also a much more intact green which was malachite which is chemically similar to copper-based green but much more stable so when you go and have a look at the map on the wall you’ll see a lot of that black etched surface but you’ll also see some remaining green and that is more likely malachite which is copper carbonate than the copper acetate.

We discovered there was white underneath the ships so the little ship sails were white and also underneath here and that was lovely because it tied into another map we’d seen that looked also like it was down in the Blaeu workshop so there was green but there was also white so you can imagine that the water under the ships would have been this white foa – green, foamy green ocean colour so not a bright green, sort of a sea foam colour.

There were two reds, there was vermilion which is this bright red and there was also red ochre so – which was a darker, brownier red so you get a sense that this was not a – it’s not a simple object, it’s got a lot of complexity and so all of these colours are hand-applied, I should mention so you’ve got the printed map and then you got all the colour on top.

And we discovered a lot of gold which was nice so you would have seen Martin’s details of those little ships all picked out in gold leaf. When we looked at that heading under the microscope every one of those letters was originally gilded so you can imagine that black heading with gold writing like it would have been a very impressive object and you can still see down in the cartouche, the writing down there has all been gilded as well too.

The two linings actually turned out to be surprisingly more fertile area for research than we anticipated so this is the original lining down here and we had a – both our textile conservator but we also had a visiting textile archaeologist have a look at it and so you know it’s all hand-spun as well as handwoven and you can see sort of the knobs and irregularities but similarly with the second lining it’s all hand-spun and there was a lot of information they could get out of that to do with things like the width of the loom which is only very, very narrow so it said a lot about the technology of the time as well.

And then finally this was a big day for us, we did our tests about the copper so initially we thought from all the scientific evaluation that because the copper, the verdigris had turned black, that it should have fully degraded to copper oxide which was now un – now stable and wasn’t going to interact anymore so this is our little plug, little, little plug of agar gel and so we tested that by placing it on the surface both in damaged areas and nondamaged areas and we compared all the results and we came back with the wonderful news that there wasn’t free copper anymore which meant that that gave us a much broader scope in how we could approach the conservation treatment because we could use moisture-based systems basically.

So you think it’s over but no, then we got onto testing the approaches from removing the varnish so we got – now we got the approval to actually touch the map so we went in in very, very small areas and started approaching the removal of the varnish based on what we knew about from the tests done by our conservation scientist and from our understanding of mastic varnish. And there’s a lot of information about mastic varnish because it’s used on paintings a lot and it’s often degraded and it has to be removed. So we consulted a lot with paintings conservators who often take it off by swabbing it with a solvent. We couldn’t do that of course ‘cause if you can imagine if we swab it with a bit of liquid solvent what’s going to happen is it will dissolve and drive itself into the paper.

So we started looking at different systems for that and what we ended up doing was looking at a gel-based system so we would put the solvent into a gel, that gel sits on the surface and softens the varnish which we then can sort of pick up in the gel so – and we did some collaboration with an international expert in this field as well too. And we had our Eureka moment so you can see here, this is one of our test areas once we were very confident already so you can see here before the varnish removal and here you can see after the application of the gel. And what is so great about this result is you can see that tiny point of gold at the top that remained intact so we had no disruption of the paper or the printing underneath or the gold leaf and so that was for us a really great result.

So then we presented the National Library with something that looked like this so this is our very straightforward pathway on how we were going to approach removing the varnish and this came into once again the different areas of printing and how they responded to the different processes. And you can see we divided it into four zones which related to things like the banner where the ink was soluble, the cartouche where it was just too fragile to actually touch and say the text map panels and the map background and you know sort of other kind of areas and we had four separate processes and then the Library after much consultation agreed that this was an okay way to proceed. And so from here we moved onto bigger tests and you can see here this was one of our later tests working on a larger area so we could once again present that information back, show some examples and make sure that the Library were happy with our approach which they were, thankfully.

And you can see here when we finally started working so this is myself and two of my colleagues so that’s Peter Michelson and Briony Pemberton and we were the people who did almost all of the actual hands-on conservation of the map. And we deliberately kept it to a small team approved by the Library just so that we didn’t – you didn’t want people - too many different hands on it because we had to work in such incredibly small areas.

So by this stage we started by doing the varnish removal on the text panels which was wonderful and it was very successful and as we went along we would then you know consolidate anything loose as it came up so it was sort of a case of you know you worked – you did a lot of things on one square rather than say cleaning all the varnish off and then consolidating the loose bits. The bit that was in front of you, you cleaned that, consolidated any loose bits and then you moved onto the next. So this went incredibly quickly and we’re incredibly optimistic but then we moved onto the map itself, things didn’t quite go as we planned.

So what happened as we moved onto the map was that we were discovering that we weren’t getting a very uniform result so we went back to the Library and said we just need to slow things down and we did so then instead of taking everything off in one go with the gel we decided to mechanically reduce the varnish across the surface and then go back again to clean underneath. And so how we did the mechanical reduction was – as you saw from those previous images the varnish fluoresced with ultraviolet light, it was also very brittle so we would have an ultraviolet light you can see there with my colleague, Peter and we’d have a little scalpel and we would scratch the varnish which would then powder and then we would be able to brush that away.

On any particular day we might cover approximately you know 10 square centimetres using this process and so the issue of course there was access. So what you can see here is – how we resolve this was with a scaffold so we had a scaffold that went across the entire surface of the map and then usually Peter, I will confess, lay on the scaffold and we went over the surface. And every 10cm square required at least four passes to clean, clear the varnish and then to go back and clean the dirt off the surface below so this process of taking the varnish off the surface of the map and then cleaning the underlying paper took approximately 1,000 hours.

And this about – if I can get this working, let’s see – this is about two days. We had some very enthusiastic media people who set up a time lapse camera so that’s one image every five minutes during the day and you can see our busy lab in the background so this is when we were doing the text panels. So for the entire 1,000 hours they did one image every five minutes.

But there’s an example, you can see partway through the process of the cleaning, the removal of the varnish. Where we couldn’t remove the varnish and there were a couple of areas we couldn’t where it was either – so here on the title, the media was just really soluble so we could not find a process where - it was also more ingrained so we couldn’t just scratch it ‘cause we’d get black media and we couldn’t lift it off with solvents because we’d just lift up black media. So what we did here instead was to re-form the varnish that was there and by re-forming it we just – so instead of it being all fractured so the light reflected just gave you a much clearer image of what was there.

And we did that by – but once again we didn’t want to drive the varnish any further into the paper, we still wanted it sitting on the surface so we did that using – so if you see back there, that’s just a little glass jar that has cotton wool in the bottom with some ethanol on it and all we did was place that over it so instead of having any liquid it only had ethanol vapours so it just had the vapours and that was enough to re-form the varnish so you can see on this side here the clear text, and here the still degraded. And we also did that in places like the cartouche along you know where we couldn’t go to within the coastlines ‘cause it was too fragile and things like the little compass roses and underneath the ship so anywhere it was too fragile to take off the varnish we re-formed it using this technique.

And so a very big day for us was when we turned the map face down because this was an indication – you imagine, it can’t go even vertically before it got to us. By the time that we had consolidated the surface enough that we put it face down and we were able to clean the back of the map and that was a mammoth day for us and slightly nerve-wracking for everyone but you can see here as well already the verdigris damage has come through the second lining as well as the first so –

And then once we did that we put in some small fills like anywhere that there was major paper losses, particularly where that was stopping the paper sitting flat we put in paper fills that had been toned to match and this is our paintings conservator, Vanessa Kowalski, and she went along afterwards with just little paintbrush and toned back those fills so that they didn’t jump out and you’ll see a few of those if you look carefully on the map. The most obvious one is right up here at the corner of the banner where there was a bit missing in the black but there’s a few throughout. We didn’t fill all the losses and one of the things we deliberately didn’t do was fill the losses along the coastlines and the reason for that is the paper there is still so weak so anything we put in to that area would not be able to be taken back out without losing more paper so we didn’t fill along all the coastlines. We did put a few – one little one behind Vanessa’s head there in the cartouche there because the loss was causing the paper to curl up so we figured it was going to lose more by not making that sit flat then put it in.

And the next stage was the mounting so this is Marion Parker who’s our textiles conservator so what we did was when we had the map face down there were a series of repairs along the top edge that had been put in by the National Library team when they couldn’t access the back but once we could access the back we sort of removed them and put in one continuous strip and we extended that strip past the top edge of the map and so here is Marion sewing through that folded paper edge and also through the second lining so not the original lining, the later lining and this supports the weight of the map.

The other important thing that Marion did was based on what we could see in the Vermeer paintings, we knew that the map would originally have had a textile edge so Marion dyed some fabrics – some [rep] 44:26, it’s called, linen [rep], it’s like a ribbon to sort of you know some appropriate colours and she sewed it back along those edges though the original sewing holes. And she always wants me to stress that it’s through the original sewing holes so when you look at it and you say look at those giant stitches, that that’s not her’s, that’s the original sewer.

So the map is supported on the lining board by this sewing along the top here and also through the [rep] lining. And then once that happened the batons were secured so the batons are not actually attached to the original map anymore, they just float in front of it and that’s so we didn’t have to you know put holes back through the map and also so the map doesn’t have to support the weight so it’s not holding the weight of those batons, the batons are held by the support board.

And after that happened it needed a new crate, it no longer fit so it went into a new crate so it arrived in an orange one and it returned in a yellow one and I must say talking about craftsmanship, that was an amazing crate. It turned up - having them only measured the board it turned up and it fitted like a jigsaw piece, it was amazing. I have a picture of it behind my desk, actually, in the crate ‘cause it was such a beautiful thing. And that’s it departing again into its truck and this time Peter was our courier, he went back up with it to here and leaving at a much more reasonable 8:02am this time. And so as you can see just for final, that’s the before treatment and here it is in its current state.


M:        I think you’ll see from this afternoon that – I think when people think about libraries they naturally and quite rightly think of them as places of humanist endeavour, of humanities, social sciences. There’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes that’s actually of a much harder-edged scientific nature in libraries but I have to say that’s about as hard-edged as I’ve ever seen and you’ve introduced a whole lot of new acronyms to me as well so I’ll try and hang onto those. So I think that gives you a sense of I guess the history of the map, why it was created and what we had to do to make it possible for you to see it again. I’m thinking about – imagine how much it must have cost to create that map to start with, I mean it’s certainly a super-luxury object with all of that wonderful gold, all that craftsmanship even if the sewing was a bit kind of big-stitched. And I actually like to think that only Blaeu but every one of the now probably nameless people who contributed to the making of that map would feel absolutely thrilled if they knew what we’d been able to do with it so that you can see it in 2017.

So thank you very much to Martin and to Libby for sharing their experiences of preserving the map and where it came from. We do have time for a few questions from the audience so just please raise your hand and if you do want to ask a question wait for the microphone so that we can have the hearing loop on and great, one there and then we’ve got two here. Right, they’re the next three questions.

A:        Thank you, that was absolutely – is that working? Right. That was absolutely fascinating about the conservation. I’m interested in the paper, can you tell us a little bit about is it a cotton rag paper or can you tell us anything about the constitution of the paper and also you said there were 40 separate pieces so how was it adhered to the lining?

L:         That’s – both good questions so the paper – it would be a rag paper. I think it’s primarily bast fibre so linen or hemp primarily, we didn’t go as far as figuring out which of those two it was. Adhered – look, I don’t think we ended up analysing the adhesive. I would anticipate it to be an animal glue at that period, though, yeah, rather than a starch. I think if it was a starch it would have been too soluble but those would have been your main options so an animal glue probably from hide rather than – there were starch-based adhesives but I think the animal glue would be more likely.

A:        I wonder if I could ask Martin, Martin, after the map was – I guess my real question is what happened to the map, the little bit you may know between its creation and it ending up in the store in Sweden. Do you know much about that at all?

W:       Everybody asks that question, Marie, and the answer is not much so you know we can assume Blaeu made this map for the atlas, 1659, big year, needed to do the atlas, did the map of East Indies. Up to this point there was no wall map of the East Indies. There were smaller atlas maps of the East Indies but there was no large wall map. The Dutch seemed more interested in their own – depicting their own provinces then he created the maps of the world and the contents and then this map as well so you can tell by the way that I’m skirting around that I know nothing about it other than to say that the – I would expect it to be someone with commercial connections with – lacking Blaeu’s records we don’t know who that is. There might be some advertisement somewhere or there might be something in the national archives if someone wanted to spend time – with Dutch language skills to go through that and identify things. There might even be advertisements somewhere. There’s certainly advertising around wall maps and interestingly in terms of their construction and getting back to the point about how they were adhered the maps would be issued and sent to Italy or sent to Germany as a kit so the local map expert would then adhere it to a lining if it was going to be hung as a wall map.

We have no record of it from that time, it was obviously hung for a long time. You can see even in that Vermeer painting after one single generation the map is showing signs of sag and wear and the weight of itself. This was sitting in a storage facility allegedly when it was located in about 2010 and put on the market. If it is the particular antique dealer that I’m thinking of he went out of business in the 1950s so it could have been there for as long as 60 years. And that’s all the recent history we have.

L:         I can say in the bag of stuff that came down, the bag of fragments that originally got cleaned off there were some feathers so that might give some indication.

A:        I’d like to ask all three of you if I could, head of library, curator and conservator, what's the appropriate approach to displaying this map? How much exhibition can it take?

L:         Deferring to me on this. It’s – certain components are more fragile than others so the most fragile components are going to be the pigments because they’re just much more fugitive and actually I forgot to mention one little area of colour that we did turn up which is probably the most fugitive element ‘cause when we took the varnish off there was tiny little bits of yellow in just a few locations there and that turned out to be an organic pigment. We didn’t end up getting a full analysis of it ‘cause there’s so little of it there. That’s the most fugitive component of the map. So how much display – other than that it’s not too bad but how much display it can get is going to be a factor of how much light it gets and the way to overcome that is to – like light exposure is beautifully cumulative you know if you halve the amount of light on it you double the amount of time so you’ll notice when you go into the display that it is really quite dim and that annoys people but that’s because you get so much more display period, so much display out of its life.

The only real way to quantify how much reserve the map had would be to do something like microfading which is where you get a specialist who takes a very, very small miniscule point and actually fade that little bit until it’s completely gone and they can calculate what cumulative exposure it’s got, what the reserve of the entire map is. But in the absence of that being done it would be probably considered at the highest level of sensitivity so it would be low light and a very controlled display over the course of its future.

M:        I might just add to that, there’s a couple of new terms for you there, fugitive and microfading.

L:         Yeah, sorry.

M:        And when we use the term fugitive in relation to pigments we actually do mean essentially how quickly that they will fade if they’re exposed to light so when I guess members of the public think about what’s most at risk you will think about the colours in a map like this but previous microfade testing on other materials in our Treasures Gallery has certainly shown us that among the most fugitive pigments in the material we’ve tested is the orange and aqua texta that Edgar Koiki Mabo used to mark out his land on the maps that were the basis of the High Court case that established native title in Australia. In that case that microfade testing and our conservators have established that those maps can - even in low light and in controlled conditions can only be displayed for about eight weeks every 10 years.

So that’s the kinds of things that we have to decide and I suppose you’re asking us as – me as the Director of the National Library, it’s my responsibility to make sure this map’s available for the people in 300 years’ time so it’s always – and the science changes, it’s not fixed so we always – microfade testing is reasonably recent and many of our treasures, even when we think we know everything about them, some new scientific technique will come up and we find a little bit more about it and I’d have to say rarely does that let us – rarely does it say actually you can expose this item to way more light for longer, it’s usually the other way around which is where digitisation comes into its own. I mean you can’t – the power of this map on the wall is nothing compared to what you can see digitally but at least it means there’s a way to experience it when we have to put it back into the stacks.

A:        How do you actually keep it when it’s not on display?

L:         Marie-Louise, did you want to answer that one or –

M:        <inaudible> 57:05 stack.

L:         It’s your stack.

W:       So it’s stored flat in a box so the second crate you saw forms the – I think the housing for the map so it comes out of – you’ll see it on display in the gallery and it’s sitting mounted on a base that fits into that box and it sits flat.

L:         And that’s deliberate ‘cause obviously - storing it flat is obviously deliberate like you’ll notice as well when it’s on the display that it’s not completely vertical, it’s off at an angle and there’s obviously a few points you know we’ve stabilised it as much as we can but it is still weak so there is obviously still a chance that you know in the future things can become loose. And the other thing is that that sewing along the top edge takes a lot of the weight of the map so anything we can do to limit the pressure that that’s under will extend the life of the mounting system as well as just the map itself.

M:        Actually I might just step in on weight there and on these stacks. Martin didn’t say his stacks are now beautiful but they weren’t so we’ve completed a project in the last – probably 18 months ago to move all of our maps collection and basically build a new false floor in the map storage area, put in all new compactus and one of the reasons we had to do that is maps are really heavy and when you’ve got lots and lots of them in drawers you end up with – and it’s on compactus, you end up not being able to move them so in fact I think that when this map goes back into the map stacks sorted flat it’s going to be in a very, very – a beautifully carefully thought out and built map stack that took us years to achieve, it takes us a long time so good question.

A:        Just wondering about the ongoing maintenance schedule for the map that – is there a plan for – at some time in the future that you’ll need to take it out and do further conservation work on it?

W:       It’s a difficult question. I think we explored the map as far as we dared within the resources that we had available if I can put it in that political way. There may be other things you can do and you know there’s also things such as finding examples of the original atlases and doing restoration work and actually filling in the loss which is the sort of thing we don’t generally do. So without going into that territory I think the maintenance really is more about checking the housing system and the display system which is rolled into one and that that’s intact.

One thing interestingly the cartouche which you can see in our example of the map, is missing the text saying Orientalis etc and we’ve recently been offered a template for that cartouche so at the moment we’re discussing that with a vendor who has found something that is a printer’s proof for the cartouche which would allow us – which would be a nice companion piece to it to actually see exactly how Blaeu had designed the cartouche.

L:         I wouldn’t anticipate it would need very much either, the only thing I would suggest and I think you know we prepared a document that went back with it about you know ongoing management plan, the only thing I would anticipate would be regular – it would need you know checks after display just to see if any fragments had come loose and maybe you know they might have to be re-adhered but it’s in just really great storage conditions you know it’s got best environmental conditions, it’s physically protected. So you know it’s – that’ll do so much more for it than anything that’s more an active process. But what we did deliberately do with the conservation was not do anything that would hinder that in the future so we haven’t put anything else back on the surface or anything like that that would then require another process if at some point I don’t know, some new technology comes in and there’s more people want to do <inaudible> 1:30.

M:        Well that might – just let me finish up by just saying that this is an example of really intense work on a highly valuable object but I think you’ve also just gathered from both Martin and from Libby that for the vast majority of our collections and even for these really important collections, the most important things aren’t the what you do to it, it’s what you don’t do to things so they need to be in really good storage. And there’s less sexy things that have to go on so I’m afraid I have a 174-page report to read on the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system this weekend and then we have to figure out how to pay for replacing it but it’s those things that all form the fabric of the building, our storage, the human systems that make sure that our collections are kind of really well documented and that we first do no harm that are equally as important. But every so often we get the opportunity to actually do something like this and again with the support of the public for which we are most grateful so I’d ask you to join me in thanking Martin and Libby who are going to then take us up, a few more things to say.


Now you’re going to have the opportunity to go up and look at the wall map up in the Treasures Gallery and I think my favourite quote from this week is some visitors to the map who told one of our volunteers guides that the Treasures Gallery is now a map’s men’s shed so blokes, you can enjoy that but look, I’d like to thank the Grimwade Centre for Cultural Material Conservation which is part of the Faculty of Arts at the University of Melbourne represented by Libby and particularly the Director, Professor Robyn Sloggett, and all the Centre staff who were involved in the project. It was so important for us to know that the map was in safe hands from the moment it left us until the moment it came back and it was. And I’d also of course like to thank my colleagues including my colleague, Denyl. Denyl, where are you? She’s probably – she’s up the back there being very modest – for their dedication in collecting, preserving and sharing Blaeu’s map. So come on upstairs to the Treasures Gallery where our Curator of Maps, Martin Woods, and Libby will be very happy to answer your questions so – and then enjoy the rest of your afternoon. Thank you.


End of recording