Gerardus Mercator: Atlas
The temporary book exhibition placed in Piranesi´s Room introduces hand-coloured copperplate maps from the famous world atlas compiled by the Flemish cartographer Gerardus Mercator (1512–1594). Mercator was one of the most important mapmakers of all time. He widely influenced geography by developing a new map projection system, now called the “Mercator projection”. His globes became the standard in globe production for centuries to come. For dozens of years, however, Mercator focused especially on completing an extensive geographic work – a description of the world. Composing the text and producing the maps required too much time to finish this ambitious project during the course of his life. Gerardus was the patriarch of a dynasty of cartographers – his three sons Arnold, Bartholomeus, and Rumold, as well as his grandsons Gerard the Younger, Johann and Michael all became mapmakers. It was particularly his grandsons, spearheaded by their uncle Rumold, who helped to finish Gerardus’ life’s work. The book was published in 1595 and was the first portfolio of maps to use the title “Atlas“ (Atlas sive Cosmographiace meditationes).
The first of the displayed maps belongs to the most beautiful cartographic works included in the Atlas. It shows the Western Hemisphere with the American continent and was created by Gerardus’ grandson Michael Mercator (ca. 1567–1600). Surprisingly, this is the only map Michael ever engraved, although he is known for other cartographic works such as a double-hemisphere medallion commemorating Francis Drake’s circumnavigation in 1577–1580. Though Michael’s known work is not extensive, its artistry continues to be celebrated today.
The original 1595 edition of the Atlas included a total of 107 maps, partly designed by Gerardus Mercator, and partly altered or created anew by his sons and grandsons. Gerardus’ main contributions to the Atlas were cosmographical and geographical descriptions of the world and maps of the European lands. Exhibited is his charming map of Iceland showing a sea monster and an exploding Hekla volcano.
In 1604, the plates for the Atlas were sold to Mercator’s follower, the renowned cartographer and publisher Jodocus Hondius (1563–1612). Hondius continued to print new editions of the Atlas that included additions of his own maps, but still gave full credit to Mercator as the author of the work.