This influential double-hemisphere world map was created by Rumold Mercator from the 1569 "World Wall Map" of his father, Gerhard Mercator for Sir Richard Garth (d. 1598), an English official in charge of national finances, with the title “clerk of the Petty Bag”.
Gerhard Mercator (1512-1594) was the greatest cartographer of the Renaissance and his 1569 world map is generally considered the single most important map in the history of cartography. He was born Gerhard Kremer (Mercator being the Latinized version of the German Kremer ‘trader’) at Rupelmonde in the Flanders by German parents. He got his master degree at the University of Leuven but gave up very young his main interest, philosophy, for the more practical disciplines of astronomy and mathematics, dedicating himself to ‘cosmography’, a discipline that during the Renaissance included astronomy, geography and chronology, of which mapmaking was just a part.
When the Inquisition and the wars of religion came to his native Flanders he moved to Duisburg, a small city with a newly founded university near Duesseldorf, where he taught and worked until his death in 1594. His crowning achievement is the 1569 world map on which his son’s map is based, using for the first time the Mercator projection representing the first successful attempt to plot the sphere of the Earth on a flat surface of paper, allowing pilots to draw a straight line across the Earth that took into account its curvature. He is also the author of the first collection of maps bearing the name Atlas.
Mercator’s 1569 world map was enormous, measuring more than two meters of length and 1.3 meters of height, engraved on 18 sheets. His son’s reduced map measures 290x520 cm, adapting the original 1569 projection to a double-hemispherical projection.
Mercator’s projection is accurate east to west but very distorted north to south, so that the Artic and Antarctic landmasses are represented completely out of proportion. The recently discovered New Guinea is correctly represented as an island (even though the text mentions that this is just a conjecture). Many of the place names in the Antarctic landmass (called, as usual, ‘Terra Australis’ “Southern land”) come from Marco Polo, such as Lucach and Beach.
Between the two hemispheres is an armillary sphere at the top and an elaborate compass rose at the bottom.
The text of the legends of the map, of the four thick columns at the bottom and of the text on the back side of the sheet is in Latin.
The text on the back side (which is actually the recto [front], coming before the map and as an introduction for the whole Atlas) is titled “Image of the Globe of the Earth” and provides justification for the world map in the verso [back], asking the reader to make constant reference to it in interpreting the maps of the single continents as parts of a whole.
The text at the bottom, drawn by Rumold according to his father’s 1569 Cosmography, is titled “A brief account of the creation and constitution of the world”, in line with the tradition of cosmography which combines history and geography, starts with the Genesis account of creation, coming then to discuss the distribution of the continents and the orbits of the stars, latitude, longitude and climate,
This map was included unchanged in further editions of Mercator’s Atlas until 1630.Sources
- Brotton, Jerry, A history of the world in twelve maps, London: Penguin Books, 2014, chapter 7.
- Brotton, Jerry, Great maps, New York: DK Publishing, 2014, 110-115.
- Gerhard Mercator, Atlas sive Cosmographicae meditationes de fabrica mundi et fabricati figura, Oakland, CA: Octavo, 2000, Lessing J. Rosenwald Collection, Library of Congress, English translation, CD-ROM edition
- Shirley, Rodney W. The Mapping of the World: Early Printed World Maps 1472-1700. Riverside, CT: Early World Press Ltd., 2001, 157.
- Suárez, Thomas, Shedding the veil: mapping the European discovery of America and the world, Singapore: World Scientific, 1992, 31.