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Gerard Mercator 1512 - 1594

Mercator was born Gerard de gemor or de Cremer in the Flemish town of Rupelmonde to parents from Gangelt in the Duchy of Jülich, where he was raised. "Mercator" is the Latinized form of his name. It means "merchant". He was educated in s-Hertogenbosch by the famous humanist Macropedius and at the University of Leuven. Despite Mercator's fame as a cartographer, his main source of income came through his craftsmanship of mathematical instruments. In Leuven, he worked with Gemma Frisius and Gaspar Myrica from 1535 to 1536 to construct a terrestrial globe, although the role of Mercator in the project was not primarily as a cartographer, but rather as a highly skilled engraver of brass plates. Mercator's own independent map-making began only when he produced a map of Palestine in 1537; this map was followed by another—a map of the world (1538) – and a map of Flanders (1540). During this period he learned Italic script because it was the most suitable type of script for copper engraving of maps. He wrote the first instruction book of Italic script published in northern Europe.

Mercator was charged with heresy in 1544 on the basis of his sympathy for Protestant beliefs and suspicions about his frequent travels. He was in prison for seven months before the charges were dropped—possibly because of intervention from the university authorities.

In 1552, he moved to Duisburg, one of the major cities in the Duchy of Cleves, and opened a cartographic workshop where he completed a six-panel map of Europe in 1554. He worked also as a surveyor for the city. His motives for moving to Duisburg are not clear. Mercator might have left the Netherlands for religious reasons or because he was informed about the plans to found a university. He taught mathematics at the academic college of Duisburg. After producing several maps, he was appointed Court Cosmographer to Wilhelm, Duke of Jülich-Cleves-Berg in 1564. He constructed a new chart and first used it in 1569. It had parallel lines of longitude to aid navigation by sea, and compass courses could be marked as straight lines. Mercator took the word atlas to describe a collection of maps, and encouraged Abraham Ortelius to compile the first modern world atlas – Theatrum Orbis Terrarum – in 1570. He produced his own atlas in a number of parts, the first of which was published in 1578 and consisted of corrected versions of the maps of Ptolemy (though introducing a number of new errors). Maps of France, Germany and the Netherlands were added in 1585 and of the Balkans and Greece in 1588; further maps were published by Mercator's son Rumold Mercator in 1595 after the death of his father. Mercator learnt globe making from Gemma Frisius and went on to become the leading European globe maker of the age. Twenty-two pairs of his globes (terrestrial globe and matching celestial globe) have survived.

Mercator published corrected and updated versions of Ptolemy's maps in 1578 as the first part of his 'atlas'. His 'atlas' continued with a further series of maps of France, Germany and the Netherlands in 1585. Although the project was never completed Mercator did publish a further series in 1589 including maps to the Balkans (then called Sclavonia) and Greece.

On 5 May 1590 Mercator had a stroke which left his left side paralysed. Frustrated that he could no longer work, he slowly recovered but suffered great frustration at his inability to continue his map making projects. By 1592 he was able to do a small amount of work again but his eyes were by now almost blind. He had a second stroke towards the end of 1593 which took away his power of speech and although he fought bravely, recovering some power of speech, a third stroke was too much for the old man. Some maps which were incomplete at his death were completed and published by his son in 1595.

Gerard Mercator

Antique maps by Mercator
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South West England and South Wales, Gerard Mercator, circa 1606-1633, SOLD South West England and South Wales by Mercator
Egypt, Aegytpum Inferiorem, Gerard Mercator, published ny Francois Hamal, Utrect c. 1688, 250 x 375mm, £225.00 Map of ancient Egypt by Mercator

Antique Maps by Gerard Mercator


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