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Gerard Mercator  (1512 – 1594)


Gerard Mercator was born as Gerard de Cremere in Rupelmonde (near Antwerp) on 5 March 1512.


Young Gerard learned what Latin he could in Rupelmonde, and when he was about fifteen, his uncle sent him to ’s Hertogenbosch to study at a school run by the Brothers of the Common Life. One of Mercator’s teachers was the celebrated humanist Macropedius. After three and a half years with the brothers, Gerard went to Louvain, where he enrolled in the university in 1530 as one of the poor students at Castle College.


By this time, he had Latinized his name to Mercator. He studied philosophy and took his master’s degree in 1532. The problems of the creation of the Universe and the Earth interested him in particular; this is reflected by his works, written in later years.


After spending a few years in Antwerp, he returned to Louvain c. 1535, where he took courses in mathematics under the guidance of Gemma Frisius. Soon he was recognised as an expert on the construction of mathematical instruments, as a land-surveyor and, after 1537, as a cartographer. He drew his income from these activities after his marriage on 3 August 1536. He also qualified himself as a copper-engraver; he was the first in history to introduce the italic handwriting to this trade. The first maps, drawn and engraved by Gerard Mercator are: Palestine, 1537; the world in double heart-shaped projection, 1538; and Flanders, 1540.


In 1544, Mercator came into great danger: he was arrested on the accusation of heresy and put into jail. Thanks to intervention of the University of Louvain, he was released after four months. In 1552, he moved with his family into the city of Duisburg (Germany). In 1560, Mercator became cosmographer in service of the Duke of Jülich-Cleve-Berge and in 1563 he became lecturer at the Grammar School of the new University in Duisburg. During this period, he made wall-maps of Europe, 1554; of Loraine, 1564; the British Isles, 1564; and the famous map of the world with increasing latitudes, 1569. About this time, Mercator was also working on the project for a complete description of the Creation, the Heavens, Earth, and Sea and a world history. Out of this resulted his Atlas, sive cosmographicae meditationes de fabrica mundi et fabricati figura. He worked also on an edition of Ptolemy’s Geographia which appeared in 1578. The first part of his book with modern maps (France, Germany and the Netherlands) appeared in 1585.


Shortly after the publication of the second part of his map-book (not yet called Atlas) with the maps of Italy (1589), he had a stroke which brought an end to his extremely great productivity. The great man passed away on 2 December 1594, leaving the responsibility of finishing the map-book to his son Rumold. The final part of it appeared in 1595. Its title is Pars Altera and it constitutes an essential part of what was then called Mercator’s Atlas.


The map of Europe and the world map in the Atlas are by Rumold Mercator. After Rumold’s death in 1599, the Atlas was reissued once more in 1602.


The plates of the maps, both of the Ptolemy edition and the Atlas, were sold in 1604 to Jodocus Hondius of Amsterdam. The following year Hondius managed to bring out Ptolemy’s Geographia. In the following year, 1606, the first Amsterdam edition of the Mercator Atlas appeared. From then to 1638, the Atlas saw many enlarged editions in various languages.

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