The Lost Treasure of Vrouw Maria

Last fall, Mara Vorhees reached out to me to talk about maps for an upcoming book about an 18th-century shipwreck. She and her co-author, Gerald Easter, spent 6 years researching and writing a book about Vrouw Maria. It was a Dutch merchant ship sailing from Amsterdam to St. Petersburg with valuable cargo: a trove of Golden Age Dutch Masters paintings purchased in auction by an agent of Catherine the Great. It sank in the Finnish archipelago and was lost for 200 years, until a Finnish treasure hunter found it. And there were competing claims by the Finnish and Russian governments.

I was spellbound as Mara told me the story! They wanted a map showing the route of the ship, with a historic feel and perhaps some illustrations of ships. Most maps of the Baltic Sea that they looked at didn’t include Amsterdam, so they realized they needed a custom map that would show exactly what they want and nothing else.

After our call, Mara sent me screenshots of the route that she marked on Google Maps. Many of my clients send screenshots to show the exact coverage area they want. In this case it was necessary in order to show the ship’s route, as well as the route that Catherine the Great took from Berlin to St. Petersburg when she moved there in 1744 (also mentioned in the book).

I sent a layout draft for a two-page spread including both routes, with an inset showing a close-up of the wreck site.

Vrouw Maria route map for book - layout draft page 1
Vrouw Maria route map for book - layout draft page 2

For the first full design draft, we enlarged the inset to better see the smaller islands of the archipelago, changed some of the city symbols and labels, and made the land area darker.

Vrouw Maria route map inset map

To give it a historical feel we also added illustrations. I didn’t create these illustrations, but have collected public domain illustrations that work well on maps.

ship illustration for map of Vrouw Maria
Vrouw Maria map carriage illustration

The next drafts had very minor changes with city symbols, route lines, some labels, and adding trees instead of hills. And for the final product, we combined the two artboards into one, based on the publisher’s requirements.

Vrouw Maria route map

The Tsarina’s Lost Treasure” will be published in September. I don’t know about you, but I am eagerly awaiting this tale of adventure and history, with a real sunken treasure! 

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