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Rare First Issue of the Best Ptolemaic of the Area
MERCATOR, G./ PTOLEMY, C. [Brussels, 1578]
Asiae VIII Tab:.
13 ¾ x 15 ¾ inches
Fine hand color; a few mended marginal tears, else excellent condition.
The rare first issue from Mercator’s definitive edition of Ptolemy’s Geography. This map depicts the area now known as China and Mongolia. Specifically, it shows the lands of Scythia Extra Imaum and Serica. Scythia Extra Imaum refers to the territory of the nomadic Scythians to the east of the Tian Shan mountain range, and the several vignettes within the map illustrate various aspects of nomadic life. Serica was a mysterious land thought to be the source of silk: indeed, the placename literally means “the land where silk comes from.”
Meeting in this map are two of the most important figures in the history of geography. Geographic data and mapmaking instructions left by the Alexandrian, Claudius Ptolemy (fl. A.D. 127-180), became the foundation of mapmaking as we know it today. And it was Gerard Mercator (1512-1594), the great Flemish geographer, whose edition of Ptolemy was considered the most accurate. In particular, Mercator’s maps conformed more closely to Ptolemy’s original design than any of the several earlier editions. Mercator’s became the standard text, with many editions following this one as late as the 18th century.
Mercator in 1540 published Literarum latinarum, the first instructional handbook in the use of the italic hand to appear outside of Italy. It was also the first work to offer instruction in the use of italic script in the engraving of maps. The maps in Mercator’s Ptolemy are arguably the finest demonstrations Mercator provided in the use of italics. Moreover, “the beauty and legibility of the best sixteenth and severteenth-century Dutch maps can be traced in large measure to Mercator’s influence” (Karrow, p. 382).
Karrow, R. Mapmakers in the Sixteenth Century, pp. 376-406.