"Leo Belgicus,” or the Belgian Lion, shows the Netherlands and Belgium as a lion standing on its hind legs. This map is part of the first edition of the first atlas of an entire country, by renowned Flemish engraver and Publisher Pieter van den Keere.
These maps show the low countries, today’s Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg as a seated lion. This configuration, one of the most famous examples of a figure map, was used as a propaganda tool over several centuries. The lion’s ability to inspire patriotism, whether in times of war or peace illustrates the political and cultural ramifications of the visuality of maps.
Claes Janszoon Visscher, who came from a famous Dutch Golden-Age family, designed this map, considered one of the best seventeenth century engravings of its kind, with symbols of peace and prosperity. The first version of the lion dates to a 1583 map by Michael Aitzinger, which shows the lion rearing on its hind legs. Many of the seventeen provinces of the low countries have a lion as part of their flag, and historians speculate that this fact inspired Aitzinger’s original design. Other representations show the lion in a different position, including one less common design, entitled “Leo Belgicus” by Jodocus Hondius, where the lion’s head faces the opposite direction.
– Melanie Langa, Undergraduate in History, ’16