Orbis Terrae Compendiosa Descriptio
Mercator, Gerard, 1512-1594 (Cartographer)
Mercator, Rumold, approximately 1545-1599 (Cartographer)
Date created
Type of resource
Still image
Maps (documents)
Historical maps
Map/Globe, Image
Digital origin
reformatted digital
For nearly sixty years, during the most important and exciting period in the history of modern map making, Gerard Mercator was the supreme cartographer, his name, second only to Ptolemy, synonymous with forms of map projection still in use today. Although not the inventor of this type of projection, he was the first to apply it to navigational charts in such a form that compass bearing could be plotted on charts in straight lines, thereby providing seamen with a solution to an age-old problem of navigation at sea. Mercator's monumental world map of 1569, which survives today in only three copies, was his major statement propounding the use of such a projection, and demonstrating how it might be drafted. The influence of his revolutionary ideas as illustrated by that map transformed land surveying, and his research and calculations led him to break away from Ptolemy's conception of the size and outline of the continents. This drastically reduced the longitudinal length of Europe and Asia and altered the shape of the Old World as visualized in the early sixteenth century. Unlike the work of Abraham Ortelius, a contemporary (and equally celebrated) cartographer, Mercator's maps are original. Ortelius did what most of the atlas-makers of our time are engaged in: the reduction and generalization of already existing maps. Gerard Mercator, with his sense that scientific work should be original and new, checked the current knowledge of the earth's topography against its fundamental sources and drew maps in an original manner.
This splendid map represents a re-working of Mercator's great world map of 1569 by his son and successor Rumold, who transformed it into double-hemispherical form in 1587 and incorporated it into editions of Mercator's long-lived and influential Atlas from 1595 onwards. It had first appeared in Isaac Casaubon's edition of Strabo's Geographia in 1587. The engraving is a model of clarity and neatness, with typical cursive flourishes to the lettering of the sea names. Surrounding the hemispheres is a strapwork border, while between them at the top margin is an armillary sphere and at the bottom an elaborate compass rose. Gerard Mercator's prominent southwest bulge to the coastline of South America is retained. This superb map represents a seminal moment in the history of cartography, for it was primarily this map that diffused knowledge of Mercator's Projection -- still widely in use today -- throughout the world.
The Abstract/Description provided for this map is taken from an accompanying gallery schedule.
Related item
Early American and European Maps
Subjects and keywords
Double Hemisphere Maps
World maps
Mercator projection (Cartography)
Western Hemisphere
Eastern Hemisphere
Permanent URL


Small Image Large Image Master Image