As a way of currying favor with a monarch, Johannes Klencke’s gift to Charles II (1630–1685) was one of the most audacious and beautiful objects ever offered. Klencke was a Dutch sugar merchant and knew that the king loved maps, and hoped that his gift would land him a favorable trading deal. (It did. He got knighted.)
The gift, the 1660 Klencke Atlas, is one of the world’s biggest books at nearly six feet tall and nearly seven and a half feet wide when open, and it contains 41 wall maps of various accuracy. We first posted about the Klencke Atlas back in 2015, where you can see a short BBC doc on the British Library’s care of the book. But only recently has the library been able to scan the maps so the public can now access them for free in high resolution.
The above video, which the British Library posted by way of Daniel Crouch Rare Books, shows a time-lapse of the multiple day shoot, which took several people, a very large room, several lights, and a specially designed stand to hold the heavy volume.
The public domain images are now part of the Library’s Picturing Places website, which holds many examples of rare maps, landscapes, and large scale technical drawings.
The book itself, as huge as it might be, is actually very fragile, so now the public and scholars can fully explore these maps at leisure while the original goes back into storage.
Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast and is the producer of KCRW’s Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.