The World Map of the Greatest Geographer of His Age
In Superb Original Color
MERCATOR, G. & R. [Amsterdam, 1587/ 1613]
Orbis Terrae Compendiosa Descriptio . . . .
11 ¼ x 20 ½ inches.
Fine original color; lightly toned, few marginal mends, else excellent.
A very attractive example in full original color of the only acquirable world map embodying contemporaneous knowledge that originated with Gerard Mercator, the greatest geographer of his era. Two of his other world maps of 1538 and 1569 are unapproachable rarities, and the world maps that appeared in his editions of Ptolemy were of course retrospective world maps. Described by Shirley as “a model of clarity and neatness,” this map was a reduction of Mercator’s 1569 wall map of the world (known in three surviving examples) by his son, Rumold. However, the present map was recast into a double hemisphere format that did not employ the projection. It is not clear why the Mercator Projection was not used on this map while the geographical delineations of the earlier map were. Perhaps because the Mercator Projection was such a recent innovation that was based on very complex mathematics, converting its use from a very large to a much smaller map may have been beyond the skills of the master’s son.
Ironically, despite this map’s high geographic merit for its day, it was an inaccuracy on it that arguably proved to be its most influential feature. Mercator chose to depict a quite broad water passage across the northern reaches of the Americas, Asia and Europe. The great regard accorded Mercator would encourage European promoters of voyages of exploration to sponsor efforts to find the Northwest and Northeast Passages depicted on this map.
This map was first produced to illustrate Casaubon’s edition of Strabo’s geography of 1587. It then appeared in the Mercator atlas in 1595, published year after Gerard Mercator’s death; the map would be a mainstay of that atlas until 1630.