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Beautifully hand-colored example of Mercator's map of Armenia, Georgia, eastern Turkey, and southern Russia, from the Mercator's Geographia, first published in 1578 and republished in Amsterdam beginning in 1695. This map is from the 1584 edition, as identified by the elaborate cartouche on the right-hand side of the map and the text on verso. A sea monster is identifiable in the Black sea.

The map is highly detailed, with numerous cities, mountain ranges, rivers, and more all shown. The map is centered on Armenia, with Mesopotamia and Assyria also named in the south of the map.

Gerard Mercator published his edition of Ptolemy’s maps as an intended companion text to his Atlas of the Modern World. His plates would be later reworked in the 1695 edition. In the later edition of this map, a new cartouche would be substituted containing a second title.

Gerard Mercator Biography

Gerard Mercator is one of the most famous cartographers of all time. Mercator was born in Flanders and educated at the Catholic University in Leuven. After his graduation in 1532, Mercator worked with Gemma Frisius, a prominent mathematician, and Gaspar a Myrica, a goldsmith and engraver. Together, these men produced globes and scientific instruments, allowing Mercator to hone his skills.

With his wife, Barbara, Mercator had six children: Arnold, Emerentia, Dorothes, Bartholomeus, Rumold, and Catharina.  In 1552, Mercator moved to Duisburg from Leuven, where he lived for the rest of his life. In 1564, he was appointed the official cosmographer to the court of Duke Wilhelm of Cleve.

Mercator’s most important contribution was the creation and popularization of a projection which now bears his name. On Mercator projection maps, all parallels and meridians are drawn at right angles to each other, with the distance between the parallels extending towards the poles. This allowed for accurate latitude and longitude calculation and also allowed navigational routes to be drawn using straight lines, a huge advantage for sailors as this allowed them to plot courses without constant recourse to adjusting compass readings.

Mercator’s other enduring contribution to cartography is the term “atlas”, which was first used to describe his collection of maps gathered in one volume. The Mercator atlas was published in 1595, a year after Mercator’s death, thanks to the work of his sons, particularly Rumold, and his grandsons.