Leo Belgicus: 16th and 17th century mapmakers drew the Low Countries as a lion


The Low Countries – or the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, and a small part of northern France – were often displayed in the form of a lion on 16th and 17th century maps. The “Belgian” lion was often displayed in homes as a symbol of Dutch patriotism. Strangely, it followed one of the two iterations shown above – it either had a normal orientation as it is in the upper image (north at the top, Netherlands as the head, the spine following the coast of Belgium), or it was rotated at is in the lower image (west at the top, Netherlands being at the rear of the lion, and Belgium and the modern French department of Nord-Pas-de-Calais at the lion’s head). I made two maps in arcGIS to give a better idea of what these maps show.

This map displays the same area shown in the uppermost Leo Belgicus, with north as it truly is. The shape of a lion’s head, face, back, and chest is easily discernible. However, this lion shape only covers roughly from the shoulder up. The shape below covers more of the area of a lion.

This map is a rotated view of the Low Countries, with the shape of the lion in the lower image of Leo Belgicus above. This design is also a convincing lion-like shape, as it encompasses more of the body and only cuts off the legs and the face.

Now my question is, was the rotated design considered that much more lion-like that artists like Jodocus Hondius would rather sacrifice proper orientation in favor of a nice design? Hondius’ rotated design, created in 1611, came 28 years after the original design of Leo Belgicus by Michael Eytzinger in 1583. Nearly every subsequent incarnation of Leo Belgicus would be properly oriented as well, including those in 1609, 1617, 1648, 1650, and 1707.

Either way, it’s pretty cool how pride can be put into the design of a map.

Info from wikipedia and world digital library.

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